At first our plan was to arrive to the Bering Strait by Canoe. Make it across the Strait to Vladivostok (russia) by plane and bicycle from Vladivostok to Irkutsk (lake Baikal, Russia). Unfortunately, one of our passport was denied by the Russian authorities and therefore we lost our plan tickets. At the same time, Nanook our 11 year old travel dog and best friend died from a sudden brain stroke. We were deeply touched by the loss.
Instead of Siberia we decided to bike from France to Ukraine an ex USSR country. Our new plan was to reach the shore of the Black sea in Ukraine biking through the Massif Central mountains of France and then cross the Alps all the way from France to the Romanian Carpathians mountains, then reach the Black Sea. We would see from there where to go next
We had an incredible ride through the mountains and once on the Black Sea shore we decided to keep cycling.
After crossing the black sea on a ferry we cycled south, crossing Turkey, Syria, Jordan and then along the Red sea, making our way through Egypt all the way to Cairo. On this leg we biked almost 7000km have crossed France, Switzerland, Austria,, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. We also biked through a little part of Germany and Transnistria.
Roads and Cycling paths per country
In France we bought regional maps and took the smallest roads we could find. These little 'white' roads (they are white on the map) are call "departementale" or "D" . They are paved and road sign are good. These have very little traffic,are winding, and lead you to the most remote rural France you can dream of. We really loved them.you go through some amazing scenery. These roads might not always be the flattest or fastest though.
Once arrived in Martigny, Switzerland, we bought a map with cycling routes at the tourism office center. We followed the Rhone bike route to Andermatt, and continued on the Rhein Route from there. The cycling route map was not very clear so we were combining this with the national road map to find our way. In Chur we quit the cycling routes to visit a friend in Schiers. We found our way to the Austrian border using 'normal' roads. The routes were signed very good. Only once had a sign been 'turned' causing us to look for the next one for quite some time! but we found it...
Just after crossing the Austrian border it was easy to catch up to the Austrian net of Cycling paths. There was a sign on the road, saying forbidden for bikes. And just underneath the sign there was a sticker saying 'radweg' with an arrow to the left.
We were fine on the bike routes with a National map. We followed part of the Inntalradweg, part of the Mozartradweg, and then started the Donauradweg in Linz.
There are bike paths every where in Austria. Most of them are paved and well marked. It is very easy to commute between villages or cities without ever having to share the road with cars. A great pleasure! There are so many bike paths that you can decide on the map which city you want to go and just follow the signs to go there! Even in the big cities there are many organized bike paths but you share the pavement with the cars. We loved Salzburg which has a gorgeous bike route along the river to reach your campsite or whatever else.
The signing can get confusing sometimes. There are so many bike routes signed in many different ways. Sometimes two different routes go to the same place, or the signs are missing at a junction. But as said, it is good to just have a national map to know the names of the small villages that lead you to where you want to go, then it's just simply following the signs!
In Linz, Austria we started the Danube bike route, or Donauradweg. This path is well signed. In Slovakia we noticed that most of the sign are now missing or have been vandalized. We would recommend to buy the bike route’s guide (with all the detailed information on the route and things to visit) before you go. This way you don't get lost in a country where you don't speak the language. Once in Hungary the signs were back again.
After reaching Budapest we decided it was time for a change from this gorgeous river, and we followed the secondary roads. The secondary roads were in moderate condition but have very little traffic. As in many other Eastern European countries the roads are often made of prefab concrete slabs of two meters long, separated from each other by an inch thick gap. Just felt like a train on an old track!
Once in Romania the roads were different. The main road was a combination of brick and asphalt, making a vibrating ride and sometimes there was a speed limit of 5km/h for cars. The secondary roads were mud and gravel, sometimes not bigger than a horse trail. The secondary roads pass through small villages and Gypsy settlements in dire straits.
On the secondary roads, the main traffic was horse carriages. Often we had some stray dogs run after us barking like they wanted to eat us, but this is something you get used to. They have never touched or hurt us, they just help to increase your speed!
In Moldova the roads were in good condition, our only advice here is to make sure you don't go through Transnistria, which is a part of Eastern Moldova a seperatist independant pro-Russian region. If you read back on our News page, it explains our experience there.
Ukraine driving was crazy. We only had 80km to cycle in this country to reach Odessa, but we witnessed some craziness on the road! The vast majority of drivers are driving very fast, carelessly recklessly selfishly and seem not to drive but to race. The traffic was very very dense as well. It was the only time on the entire trip that we were actually constantly scared of dying from the traffic.
In Turkey, we also followed secondary roads. The roads often had 2 lanes going each way, but there was always a big emergency lane that was very safe for us to drive on. People here drive careful and the locals will always make sure you’re doing okay and that you‘re happy.
In Syria there is basically one big road going from north to south with some smaller roads serving the rest of the country. Here too, people drive careful. You’ll notice many cars honking their horns. We already noticed it in Turkey, but in Syria they hunk to say; “I’m going to pass you“, “I’m passing you” and “I’m done passing you”. Also just to say hi or encourage us they were honking. Here too, many people stop to see if you’re happy and lots of people make the sign that compares to the western ’thumbs up’.
In Jordan there are 3 main roads to cross the country, there is the King’s Highway, the Desert Highway and the Dead Sea Highway. Here, like in Turkey and Syria the roads are good. The emergency lane is not always there, so sometimes you have to share the road with the cars. On the Dead sea highway along the Dead sea, there was quite some mileage between different villages, we would advise to take an extra bottle of water and some extra food.
If you want to Swim in the Dead sea, take lots of water since you have to rinse yourself completely! There is a public beach with showers, just after the resorts.
What we liked about cycling Jordan is that all big attractions are about a day cycling away from each other.
We took the Ferry to Egypt. The Ferry leaves from Aqaba. We figured it would be a long ride downhill from Wadi Rum. We decided to take the Truck lane road to Aqaba instead of the Highway. This road starts about 10km before Aqaba and is a slow climb up and a looooong going down right to the Ferry terminal! If you don’t take this Truck road, the highway goes up pretty steep from what we saw.
If you have to wait for the ferry, just head towards the Saudi Arabia border and after about 1 km, you’ll find some campsites on the shore of the Red sea.
In Egypt, we shared the road with tourist buses and Jeeps. There are quite some checkpoints. Otherwise, the road is good with a small emergency lane. Watch for going along the west side of the Sinai peninsula as we have been forced to have a pick up loaded with armed guards follow us at one of the checkpoints. They are not used to travelers like us (the non bus tourist) and since they already suffered a number of attacks in this country, they don’t really trust you on your bicycle…
September 13, 2008
It has been a great week, we have seen many different landscapes and have met many encouraging people.
The weather has been very unstable, which gives us a daily challenge to adjust to the circomstances. We arrived in Tournon after the weekend, where they were cleaning up after a big storm that hit them on Saturday. There were rocks on the road, the road sunken and some parts closed, mudslides, and lots of dirt. Thankfully the campsites were reopened after being evacuated during the weekend.
We are making an average of 80-105 km a day, we are taking our time to visit and to sometines enjoy a beer for refreshment. Our average daily ascent of 1200 m a day makes our muscles grow quickly and we are starting to notice the difference! We try to take the smallest roads possible to have the least traffic, even though they are not the most direct and they are quite hilly, they give us the upportunity to stop when we want, to bike side by side and let us enjoy the quietness.
After traveling 8 days and 685 km, we arrived in Megeve yesterday (in the French Alps)and will be staying here with our friends for the weekend. This gives us the time to rest our legs and knees and enjoy some great company.
October 2, 2008
Thanks everyone for your messages, we appreciate it!
The odometer shows 1700km, we have crossed breathtaking Switzerland, amazed by the many villages built against the steep mountains, the whistle of the train that sounds like a bird singing and the amount of farmland and cows in all the valleys. We went to visit our friend Sandro which gave us a good break after passing a pass of 2485m high, where we set foot on the glacier that starts the Rhone river. We went through another 2 passes, of 2068m and 2383m before crossing the border into Austria. like in Switzerland, the bike trail system was easily found again. We travelled through Tirol and decided to head towards the north to quit the high mountains and its passes, and give our knees a break. We arrived in Salzburg last monday and are currently in Linz where we have been invited by someone to stay at their home. From here we will take the Danube bike trail that actually goes all the way to the Black sea!
We are doing about 100 km every day now that our legs are trained. We are still camping in Campgrounds every night but this will soon be finished.
if you want to check our route on the map, hereby some placenames:
Switzerland: Martigny, Sion, Sierre, Brig, Chur, Schiers, Klosters, Davos, Martina
Austria: Imst, Innsbruck, Worgl, Weer, St Johann I.T., Salzburg, Mondsee, Attersee, Wels, Linz
October 4, 2008
We just arrived in Vienna yesterday, on a very rainy day. We spent an hour looking for a campsite, riding around town, only to find out it was closed for the season. with darkness falling and our clothes getting soaked we were desperately looking for a warm and dry place to stay. We had no choice left but finding a hotel. ´We were out of luck since the first hotel we found was booked full. They sent us to another hotel in the neighbourhood where we had to pay triple price. At the end of this day we have made a 130km, our best mileage so far!
We realize that big cities are not really made for travellers like us. heavy traffic and endless suburbs make it hard to appreciate, on top of which there are not many campgrounds, and they are far from the centre.
In Linz, thanks to the canadian flag on the trailer, a friendly fellow named Manfred stopped us on the road to invite us at his house. He had travelled by bike across Canada, 15 years ago. We enjoyed some good food and wine and a warm place to sleep. This was our 3rd sleepover. While we were still in France we stayed at Vincent and Sophie (that joined us on the Yukon River) in Megeve for a few days, to get over our colds that we had at this time and also to celebrate Sophie´s birthday. In Switzerland we stayed at our friend Sandro in Schiers who spents his winters in the Yukon. Thank you to all of you, for welcoming and hosting us like royals in your homes. We really appreciated it!
Otherwise, we have started the Danube bike trail in Linz, that took us through the province Wachau where they make lots of wines and have many orchards, countless nice onion shaped top churches, and middle age ruines of fortification overlooking the valleys.
We found the steady flatness of the trail sometimes a bit monotone in contrast with the challenging roads and passes of the Alps.
We are planning to ride towards Bratislava (Slovakia) and Budapest (hungary) in the next days.
We are looking forward to cross Transsylvania in Romania and then the Carpats
October 14, 2008
Vienna - Slovakia - Hungary - Romania
We have 39 days and 2900km behind us since we left from La Tapie.
From Vienna we kept following the Danube bike trail, we passed Bratislava and continued in Slovakia until we crossed the Hungarian border in Eztergom. There we climbed up the hill of the massive basilique that overlooked the Danube river and the surrounding villages. We passed through Visegrad, a touristic little town where archeologists were uncovering important roman settlements.
We rode all the way to Budapest where, after enjoying the countless beauties of this city, we quit the Danube river to make our way east towards the Hungarian basin.
The bumpy worn out roads took us through endless cornfields that were interrupted from time to time by villages. Many farmers where harvesting their lands. The plowed dark grounds made a pictoresque contrast to the golden color of the corn swaying in the wind. We have been impressed by the amount of pheasants and gigantic hares jumping and flying around.
We had a hard time to find roads going straight east, especially getting closer to the Romanian border. Bicycles where no longer alowed on the bigger roads. This forced us to take many detours to find our way.
The secondary roads are not busy, we can still see quite some old Trabants and Ladas driving around. Many people seem to commute by bike, either in the countryside or towns.
Since we left Vienna, we have been enjoying warm, dry and sunny weather. Our down gloves are staying deep inside the bags!
As we crossed the Romanian border a few days ago, we immediately climbed out of the Hungarian bassin into the Transsylvanian rolling hills. We saw many horse carriages driven by Gypsy men, going west towards Hungary. In rRomania the roads are outdated, they are partly paved and partly brick. The potholes are quite impressive in size, number and depth. The vibration and unevenness combined with the potholes makes it hard to drive, for us and cars. The secondary roads are dirt and mud only. We will be putting our bikes through the test from now on!
In rural Romania there are no more Trabants and Ladas, but 75% of the cars are old Dacias (alias Renault 12 from the 70's) that comes in Sedan, Station wagon, Pickup and Van. Also the horse carriages are a usual way of transportation but people are not using bicycles.
Yesterday we took a secondary road to make a shortcut. We stumbled on some Gypsy settlements on the outskirts of visibly poor villages. We were astonished by the ambiant misery. They were living in half demolished shelters, without power or water or any kind of hygiene.
Here in Zalau, a lively bigger town, we notice quite a contrast with the poor countryside. Life seems more western European alike.
We are now taking a day off in Zalau to rest and will take off again tomorrow. We will be heading towards Chisinau (Republic of Moldavia) followed by Odesa (Ukraine).
October 23, 2008
Zalau (Romania) - Orhei (Republic of Moldavia)
We have 48 days and 3600 km behind us since we left from France.
It's been an interesting week. We kept traveling through Transsylvania under a sunny sky until we reached the Carpat Mountains. Unfortunately, we climbed the first passes under a heavy rain and thick fog. The roads were under construction most of the way up and were very very muddy.
We got some nice weather again in the eastern side of the mountains and finaly were able to really enjoy the scenery. We didn't get to see any vampires or bears, too bad.
For the story, we ended up staying in a little hamlet in a pension above a disco. We didn't sleep at all since it was saturday night and the boomboxes sounded like they were in the next room. Stefan, the owner of the place offered us his excuses and a coffee and invited us to come stay at his home in Orhei (Rep. of moldavia) to enjoy a quiet night.
We left the carpats in Piatra Neamt and entered into vast hilly prairies that just look like the ones north of Moosejaw in Manitoba.
After hitting the 3000 km Leandra's rear inner tube and tire blew up. Thankfully we had a spare of both and were able to keep going. We decided to make a detour to Bistrita and get another spare just in case. There are very few bike stores here (only in bigger towns). A few days later her new rear tire and tube blew up as well!
So we made another detour to go in a town to find some spares. In Roman we have been very fortunate to meet Razvan, a friendly fellow, speaking good English, who took lots of his time to help us find a good bike store and dealt with the shop mechanic to drill the rim in order to fit a bigger valve.
After leaving town it was the turn of Phiippe's rear tire and tube to blow up. We had the spare parts but we had to drill the rim by hand with a knife...
North of Roman we biked through some remote gravel roads to avoid the main highway. We ended up on some hilly rough horse trails for a while, using a compass to travel. We were rewarded by reaching the highest hills of the area with breathtaking views of the countryside.
We crossed the Romanian/EU border for the Republic of Moldavia where Philippe's passport almost got denied because of some stains on some pages (for these same stains we have been denied our visas for Russia, 2 months ago). The custom officer quickly changed his mind though.
Moldavia is still very hilly but with less villages and prairies. We biked through modest rural areas with lots of vineyards, large forests, and grazing areas. Somehow it reminds us a bit of Tuscany (Italy). After spending all our nights since Zalau in Pensions we were now capable of finding a quiet forest to camp.
At 3500km we needed to change Philippe's drive train, chain and cassette, as they were totally worn out.
We arrived in Orhei yesterday late evening, unfortunately Stefan did not respond his telephone and we stayed in a hotel.
When we look back at the distance we made, the experiences we gained, the nice people we met and the beautiful things we saw we are proud of ourselves and happy to be here. On top of that, Odessa is coming closer and closer.
unfortunately we are incapable of uploading pictures at this time, we apologize and try to upload them asap!
October 26, 2008
Orhei (Rep. of Moldavia) - Odessa (Ukraine)
We have paddled 3853 km in 52 days since we left from France.
We enjoyed a gorgeous day off in Orhei (Republic of Moldavia), and left the next morning in the rain. On our way to Tiraspol, we were very excited to see the first road sign showing Odessa at only 175km away.
Aproaching Tiraspol, a city shown on the map as part of the Moldavian republic, we unexpectedly arrived to a Military checkpoint protected with a tank covered by camo nets, before crossing the Dniester river. The military guard opened the gate for us without asking any questions. We noticed that after the checkpoint there were grass and trees growing on the cracked road, showing no vehicle traffic for a long time. People were crossing the bridge by foot. On the other side of the bridge there was another Military checkpoint with a tank covered by camo nets, where again the gate was opened for us without any questions asked. We had no idea what was going on and where we were. Especially when we saw the flag and the plates on the car were different from the Moldavian ones. Also we noticed everything was written in cyrillic. We were wondering where we were and what was going on as we noticed many military people in uniform around us. 10km before arriving to Tiraspol we saw a group of cyclists. It had been a long time since we saw other cyclist so we worked a sweat trying to catch up with them, which we did. They pointed us to the neirest hotel, since it was already getting dark. Once arrived at the hotel we discovered that here they were speaking another language and had a different currency (Rubles). We checked the rubles and translated the cyrillic text on them, checked the maps and our 'Eastern Europe' book, trying to figure out where we ended up, but nothing made sense.
We learned later that we were in Transnistria, a part of the republic of Moldavia that has proclaimed themselves independent in the 1990's with the Military support of Russia. They have started a war with the Republic of Moldavia in 1992 and this ended up in a cease fire the same year, which is still an unsolved conflict. Transnitria is still not recognized by any other countries in the world, therefore we have not found any information in all the maps and the book we had about this part of the world.
From Tiraspol we thought it would take us another 2 days to arrive in Odessa, because we were expecting long line ups at the border. The bordercrossing was interesting, it made us realize that the European 'open border' system is unique. We had to fill in some forms and were called into the immigration office after being passed by the border control. In the immigration office we had an interesting experience. When we crossed the border into Transnistria we were not asked for anything, but apparently we were supposed to get a stamp in our passports. So the immigration officer was sending us back 240km to get the stamps in our passports! Well there we were, 80km from arriving to the Black sea, having to go back 240km, we were very dissapointed. Then the officers started talking about 'Philippe present'. We soon understood what they meant when they put a note in front of us saying 10 Euro... So we payed the 20 Euros to avoid making a 240km return trip just to get the stamps.
Thankfully at the Ukrainian border they were nice. After a few hour delay to cross the borders, we paddled and paddled against the wind on a very dangerous road. Looking for a place to camp or a hotel we found no hotels and only cultivated land. We ended up arriving in Odessa in the dark. We stopped at the first hotel we found, a little dissapointed that we had to arrive to this landmark in our trip this way. Exhausted and hungry we went to the Mexican restaurant across the street, unable to walk any further, we looked back on this crazy day while enjoying some excellent Mexican food.
The driving here in Ukraine is the worst we have seen so far. People drive very fast and are constantly passing eachother. No matter if there are cars coming on the opposite side of the road or not. We have seen some cars driving in the ditch to avoid the carr passing car someone on the opposite side of the road. We have seen cars making detours trying to hit an animal on the side of the road. Also we witnessed many very 'close to lethal accidents' situations and we have felt very unsafe.
Today we have spent our sunny day visiting Odessa, which is full of historical buildings and monuments. On one of the squares there were 3 different couples having their wedding pictures taken, which reminded us of our dreamwedding almost 6 months ago in Haines. We visited the harbour and have been thinking about our next step from here. We have arrived one day late for the ferry to Istanbul, but we will be spending the week here to wait for the next ferry on Saturday. At the same time we are working on arranging ferries and bike routes to make our way back to La Tapie on time for Christmas.
October 31, 2008
Odessa, Black sea (Ukraine)
Our week off in this city of many wonders has been very delightful.
We have been busy strolling around the downtown area, the beach and harbour. Also, we have spent many hours on the internet, doing research on the destinations to come. We have puzzled out different options, and tried to fit them in the 7 weeks we have left.
Odessa was our ultimate eastern goal for this fall trip. Originally it was planned for us to come back to France using a combination of ferries and biking through; Turkey, Greece, Italy, and North Africa. Our plans have now changed and we have decided to do otherwise. Tomorrow (Saturday Nov.1st) we will be crossing the Black sea with a passenger boat to Istanbul, where we arrive Monday morning. From Istanbul we will bike Southbound towards Syria, followed by Jordany. in Jordany we will end our trip in the Wadi Rum and Petra area.
We are looking forward to the beautiful things that are yet to be seen with in our mind the amazing experiences we already gained on this journey. Our bikes are cleaned, fixed and adjusted and are ready to get going again. After a week of rest our knees are still a bit painfull, which is a little concern for us.
Odessa is the most lively city we saw since we left. The streets are busy night and day. The downtown area is full of chic boutiques, fancy restaurants, cafes and casinos. Men and Women, of all ages, are always dressed up very nicely (we notice many women wearing high heels and miniskirts) . Our hiking boots and tired outdoor gear really stand out and we notice people are staring at us.
The old buildings are very finely decorated and come in many different styles, but always in harmony. Many modern stylish malls and other commercial complexes are seen here and many are still underway.
In the grocery store we find a wide variety of products like veggies, fruits, french cheese and sushi. The most interesting stays the unlimited choice of Vodka, cheaper than a bottle of pop.
We have been lucky to find a very good bike store (Bikers Store, on Malinovskiy street) where they sell western style bicycles.The staff was very happy to help us. They could supply us with spare parts, and make a final tune up on the bikes.
It has been more than 2 months that we lost our best friend Nanook and we still miss him terribly. We think about him very often and wonder where we would have been if he would still be with us. Here in Odessa there are many friendly streetdogs and cats living in packs, bothering nobody and bothered by nobody. We like to watch them go about and be free.
We would like to thank everyone for posting messages in our guestbook, they are encouraging for us and therefore very appreciated!
November 9, 2008
Istanbul - Ankara (Turkey)
4500 km and 65 days since leaving from France
First of all we would like to thank everyone for the encouraging messages via our guestbook, and emails.
It has been an adventurous week, we arrived in Istanbul in the morning heat on Monday. We spent a full day enjoying some of the many sights this town has to offer. We visited the sublime downtown, the Grand bazaar, the Mosques... and walked the countless little streets filled with restaurants and small shops. After dinner we had our 'carpetseller' experience. We were taken into a basement full of carpets, offered a tea and a smile. They tried hard to sell us a carpet, we doubted, but left an hour later without a carpet and 2 dissapointed sellers.
We left Istanbul the next morning, we planned to take the bridge across the channel, to finally step into the Middle East. Unfortunately we found a huge traffic mess. Instead we took the ferry across. We spent the entire day biking through the suburbs. Sometimes along the shoreline, sometimes inland. The road was extremely busy and the level of pollution extremely high. It took us 3 days to get out of the polluted industrial area. It took us quite some motivation to get going, and we were wondering if we would ever reach rural Turkey and a place to camp.
Luck seemed to have left us as we had forgotten to ask back our passports in the hotel in Gebze. We figured this out while looking for them the next evening in Adapazari, a 105km further. It took us a day to go back and forth to pick them up by public transport.
After passing Adapazari the landscape began to change. Less industries, smaller towns, and more agricultural land. Finally when we started to climb towards the Turkish interior plateau, we found some wilderness. Above 1000 meters high we biked through steppes and pine forests. Every hill seems to have a different scene, some are dry and grassy, some are covered with trees, some are of red or white colored volcanic rock. We noticed the road was constantly going up and down, and we were climbing several passes a day. Our highest pass we climbed in Turkey, was 1570 meters high. We camped there and woke up in the frost and found out it was -8 degrees celsius. Making us appreciate the winter gear we have been carrying around for so long without not much use. Otherwise, the temperature during the day reaches 25 degrees celsius. In the central plateau we are enjoying biking through semi-desertic landscapes with a low population density.
The Turks are very very nice, very helpful and sincerely friendly. Everywhere we stop in public areas, we are offered help and of course the traditional Turkish tea. Even on the road, most of cars and trucks greet us, honking and waving at us. We feel very safe and welcome to be here and among the people.
The sound of the call for prayer coming from the Mosks minarets is a true delight and something we look forward to hear every day. They wake us up at 5.30am, join us for lunch at noon and call the end of our day at 4.00pm before sunset.
Because of the short daylight, we have changed our routine. We are starting to bike at 7am and finish our day around 4pm. we are making an average of 115 km a day
As we arrived in Ankara today, we were greeted by 2 men on bicycles. We asked them where we could find a hotel and after a few phone calls, they escorted us through the streets. Stopping cars and buses to let us through the traffic. They brought us to a luxury 4 star hotel, owned by one of their friends, where they gave us 'friendly' price. We shared some tea and lots of laughter with the 2 cyclists and the owner of the hotel. They explained us that they were kyrgyzstanese, Kurd and Turk, making the room filled with international backgrounds.
From Ankara we are now heading South East, aiming for the Cappadoccia region. We should arrive to Nevsehir in about 2-3 days.
November 14, 2008
Ankara - Goreme (Turkey)
We left La Tapie 71 days and 4800 km ago.
We've made our way out of the Turkish capital, and climbed our way up, higher on the central plateau. The road was very hilly, and still is. We climb an average of 1100m a day. The effort is easily forgotten by looking at all the nice landscapes we paddle along, desertic valleys and volcanic mountains, beautifully colored in red, pink, yellow, white and blue.
We also found our best wild campsites so far in desertic or semi desertic volcanic moonscapes. IIt feels very special to pitch your tent on the red volcanic sand.
We have arrived in Goreme, in the Cappadocia region, a few days ago. Cappadocia is well known for its troglodyte villages and churches carved in the volcanic rocks and cones, dating back to the X and XI centuries.
We have been able to ride our bikes without luggages for two days on trails to visit the area. We rode through many gorgeous valleys and couldn't stop saying 'wow'. It is amazing here. We feel we could spend a lifetime visiting the region, but unfortunately we can't.
Make sure to check out the pictures!
November 18, 2008
Goreme - Adana (Turkey)
We have travelled 5120 km since we left, 75 days ago.
It has only been a few days since we last wrote, but we like to keep you up to date.
Leaving the Cappadoccia region, we decided to take a small road. There was barely any traffic and it was passing through magnificent valleys. We went through Canyons, along lakes, modest agricultural areas, and volcanic landscapes wıth more phallic rocks and caved churches. We also caught sight of the Mt Erciyes volcano that was floating above the clouds.
We went through snowy mountain ranges wiıth passes up to 1600 meters where we had cold nights. We had the water in our waterbottles freeze solid for the fırst time. One day where we went over 3 passes, pushing our strengths to the limit.
After Ulukisla where we camped at 1400 meters, the road went down towards the Coastal range. Once we were down at 600 meters we had to climb back up to another pass at 1385 meters.
The landscape in the Coastal range was quite different from the high plateau, with broad pine forest and snowy peaks. On the coastal side we went downhill into dry landscape where we were surrounded by vineyards and cactusses. Once we reached 30 meters there were many orchards wıth clementines.
We are now in Adana, preparing our journey into Syria, where we should be within the next week.
November 25, 2008
Adana (Turkey) - Damasus (Syria)
We have travelled 5600 km and 82 days since we left.
This last week has been very special.
The day we left Adana we tried to camp at the beach. Just before arriving to the beach a group of people invited us for some fish. We enjoyed their company and went on as it got dark. On the beach we noticed someone walking back and forth constantly, checking on what we were doing. We were not sure what his intentions were so we took off again, this time in the dark.
We found the big road and were not sure what to do, as it was dark and therefore dangerous. We decided to ask at the first gas station we saw, where we could find a hotel. Once at the gas station they told us we were crazy for driving by bike in the dark and offered us an empty room. We had lots of tea, food and laughs with the guys, followed by a good night of sleep. We would like to thank all the people of Turkey for their memorable friendliness, kindness and hospitality.
On our way to the Syrian border we had some weather issues. We had high winds, heavy rains, thunderstorms and fog while crossing the coastal range. We arrived at the Syrian border and crossed our fingers that we would be able to get a visa (since officially you have to get one from your home country). Fortunately everything was straightforward and went troublefree. It took us an hour to get through the line ups and the visa process.
Syria is very different from Turkey, we noticed this instantly by the housing. The houses here are built from sand colored stones or marble. The roofs are flat and many houses are finely ornamented. The landscape is beautiful, red earth, contrasted by sandcolored rocks and forests of olive trees.
We went to Aleppo to get some road maps. After visiting a bit, we took off towards the south. We later met Omar, who stopped us and offered us to stay at his home for the weekend. We accepted and thought it would be an interesting experience.
Indeed we had an unforgetable weekend. We enjoyed great food, and great company from his wives and some of his 16 kids. He received us as honoured guests. The first night he invited some friends and family for a big traditional feastmeal. We were offered some local clothing, so ours could be washed. The next day he brought us to visit the Mayor and other important people. Afterwards we went to Ebla where we visited some very well preserved roman ruins, after which we had dinner at one of his friends. We have learned many things, in many ways. We left yesterday with what we hope will be a lifelong friendship with them.
Omar dropped us on the spot where he picked us up, and we figured out that Leandra's derailler was badly damaged. as we were wondering how to fix the problem (most likely in Damascus), an 18 wheeler truck stopped. Apparently it was Omar's brother, Mohammed. He offered to take us Damascus (300 km further), which we accepted.
We are now in Damascus, have the problem fixed and will be leaving again tomorrow.
We have booked our plane tickets for the 22nd of December. We have decided to leave from Cairo (Egypt) since that seemed the most logical option. We now have about 1500 km left and a time limit of 26 days.
Unfortunately we can not upload more than a few pictures at this time, because of internet problems at the internet cafe. We will upload them on our next update.
December 1, 2008
Damascus (Syria) - Petra (Jordan)
We have ridden 6020 km in 88 days.
We left Damascus and had 120 km to the border. Our speed was fast, an average of 30km/h. We made 75km by 11am and reached the border around 3pm. It took us an hour to get through the process of getting our visas. We camped between two hamlets in a sandy hill.
Next day we decided to head towards Jerash, which was supposed to be just a little detour. Unfortunately we took the wrong road and it ended up being a 60 km detour. We enjoyed the roman ruins and continued on our way towards the Amman. The road was constantly going up, and in the hot temperatures it made a sweaty workout. We reached Amman as it got dark, it took us a long time to find a hotel.
We had a long going down from Amman to the Dead Sea. We visited Bethany beyond the Jordan, the actual site where Jesus was baptized by John. Also we saw the hill where Elijah was sent to Heaven. We stood just a few meters from Israel as we were on the shore of the Jordan river. The wind was strong and (of course) against us as we rode towards the Dead Sea. We were stopped at a check point and as we were let through we noticed Philippe's rear tire flat. Just a few 100 meters after fixing it, Leandra's rear tire and inner tube blew. So we spent some time fixing and we were hoping not to have the same experience as we had in Romania (when we had 1 tire blowing a day for a few days). As we went on, past the fenced resorts we noticed many locals having barbeques on the shore. We saw some camels and nomad camps.
Our campsite on the shore of the Dead sea was at 440m below sealevel. We only dipped our hands in the sea since we did not have enough water to rinse us off after swimming. There is 6 times more salt in the Dead sea than in any other seas.
The next day we rode along the Dead sea. The road was going between the sea and sandstone mountains, cut by deep canyons from which fresh water gives life to exotic plantations. Then we started climbing steep out of the Dead sea valley, heading towards Tafila. Many people stopped and asked us if we needed a ride, explaining the road would go up steep for 30km. Later, a car stopped and a fellow, Akef, invited us to stay at his home for the night, and we accepted. We had another good experience with his family.
Next morning we biked our way to Petra, where we are now. We spent our day today visiting the amazing site.
The landscape in Jordan is amazing. We have seen sandy desertic areas, oases, red volcanic landscapes, forests of tropical trees, and many rocky mountains.
December 8, 2008
Petra (Jordan) - Dahab (Sinai peninsula, Egypt)
We have sat in our saddles for 95 days and 6232 km.
We had a long steep climb out of Petra and followed a road that took us over the hilltops, going up and down but giving a breathtaking view of the desertic mountains surrounding us.
We made our way to Wadi Rum desert area famous for landscapes of red sand and towering peaks. We first stopped 20 km before the oasis-like village of Rum to sleep in the desert. As we settled camp, a bedouin came to visit us walking from his camp with a pot of tea and three glasses. After chatting a bit, despite no common langage, he went back to his camp and came again to offer us some wooden carvings. Bedouins hospitality and kindness is for sure not a legend. In the early morning after a quiet night in the absolut silence of the desert, we went to visit him at his camp, he offered us tea and gave Leandra a nice handmade wooden necklace. Our heads full of thoughts about the nomadic live of Ahmet and his generous kindness, we head towards Wadi Rum.
This part of the desert is very very sandy and it is impossible for us to bike off the liitle dead end road. So we decided to explore the surrounding of Rum the first day by Jeep, and the two following days by foot.
As much as we have been dealing with strong headwinds almost our entire tour through Jordan, our last day as we took off to Aqaba, we had the wind in our backs, and made the 87 km there in the morning. We arrived to the ferry terminal where we learned that the next boat would be Sunday. We found ourselves a camp on the shores of the turqouise blue Red sea. Leandra celebrated our arrival in the hot weather by going for a swim.
We spend a full day to take the 1.5 hour 'fast ferry' to Egypt thanks to waiting times and delays with border crossings. We spent the night in a hotel just by the ferry terminal. Here we shared the room with some ########### and have been eaten alive by musquitoes all night, enough for us to set up the tent on top of the bed.
Jordan was a great experience, once again the people were very welcoming and friendly. We have seen so many things that our minds are sometimes having a hard time to digest it all. We are now excited to explore some parts of Egypt.
December 15, 2008
Dahab (Egypt) - Cairo (Egypt) Final destination for 2008.
Cheers to a succesfull 100 days and 6706 km of life changing experiences!
We arrived in Cairo after some crazy experiences on the Sinai Peninsula.
From the warm and friendly village of Dahab, we rode through the desert mountains. We passed few bedouin settlements where children came running to the road to ask us for food. After a day in the heat, 120 km later and after 1000 m denivelation, we arrived to Sharm el Sheikh. Sharm was quite a contrast from what we saw during the day. It has a place with only big 4 and 5 star resorts and casinos. It looks like a typical tourist only beach resort town (We didn't see many locals here). Incapable of making our way through on time before sunset, we had to stay in a hotel were we were not very welcome as independent travellers. Our bicycles seemed to be a real problem for them.
Remember the hotel we stayed at the port in Nuweiba? The one where we pitched our tent on top of the hotel bed since we were attacked by hords of mosquitos?? Since that night, Philippe has had dozens of extremely itchy and hard big bumps showing up all over his body, accompanied by a light fever. We were more and more worried as this continued for the next days. Wondering what was going on and what it was that was going on underneath his skin. We stopped in a pharmacy in Sharm el Sheikh where we were told it was an allergy to bug bites. We were almost convinced it wasn't, but decided to try the medicine anyways. Thankfully with the time the bumps did get smaller.
Happy to leave the surreal town of Sharm el Sheikh, we headed back in the desert on our way to El Tur. The road was now going across a flat desert along the shore of the Red sea. There was absolutely no trace of any kind of life in this sandy area. Not even one tree or shrub and no Bedouin either. We found it very monotone. We started to notice that the sea breeze we had in the morning was now growing stronger and stronger and our speed dropping. By noon the wind dropped our speed to 10km/h only, despite our great efforts. Also Leandra's rear bearing was loose and grinding. Since El tur was 120 km (and the first village) away from Sharm el Sheikh, we started to worry a bit if we could make it there, since we really needed more water in order to camp. By the end of the afternoon we were completely exhausted and still were 35 km away from town. The wind not giving us a break. Thankfully some bedouins stopped to check on us and offered us a ride to El Tur.
Once arrived in El Tur it took us a long time to find a place to camp since the desert here was under Military surveillance.
The next day as we came across just another checkpoint, they asked for our passports as usual. The guy in charge was suspicious about our intentions. The nearby canal of Suez is under tight military security. Therefore the officer decided (after checking our passports several times) to let us go through, but only if escorted by a noisy police pick up with heavily armed soldiers inside. For hours they have been following us and going no further than a meter behind us. We were frustrated. How do you go to the toilet in the desert with these people watching you constantly? And where is the peace if you have a constant noise in your ears, loud enough to make it impossible to talk? We were sure that if we would camp, they would camp with us and then follow us again tomorrow, that was not acceptable for us.
We cycled 120 km that day and were still 2 days away from Suez city (El Suweis). Looking at the current situation we realized that our only way out was to hitch a ride to get out of this annoying and ridiculous situation. Without advising the police, we decided to stop the first truck we saw. The cops waited with us until a pickup stopped to give us a ride to Suez city. The police had to pass some phone calls to other officers and gave us an OK to take the ride, they seemed relieved with our decision (so were we) so they didn't have to follow us until who knows where.
As we went through the tunnel underneath the Suez Channel, we left Asia behind us and now entered the African continent.
We spent the night in Suez and decided to cycle the last 150 km to Cairo in 2 days because of the wind conditions. It was quite a boring ride on a busy road, crossing the flat monotone desert in the interior of Egypt. The area was so flat that we had a hard time to find a quiet discrete spot for our last campsite of this trip. We waited for dark to sneak away in the desert and go pitch our tent in one of the many trenches dug for army tanks. We decided to wake up at 4.30 am and go as soon as possible to make sure we would be gone before sunset.
We arrived to the outskirts of Cairo and found ourselves in thick smog and pretty challenging traffic. People driving very fast, and driving as if they were alone in the streets. Philippe almost got driven over by a bus. We found the downtown and a place to stay.
We arranged a tour to the Pyramids for the next day, the landmark of the end of this cycling trip.
In 100 days we have travelled through 14 different countries. We have set foot on 3 different continents. We have dipped our hands in 5 different seas. We have seen many different cultures. We have seen many breathtaking landscapes. We have cycled through many mountain ranges. We have had only 5 days of rain. We went way over our expectations of this trip, in many ways.
We will fly to France tonight, where we will spend our Christmas and New year's with family.
29'er Gary fisher x-caliber mountain bikes with front suspension. Philippe had the 2007 model, Leandra the 2008 model.Our bicycles were equipped with v-brakes and Sram components. During our travels we learned that Sram is hard to find in other parts of the world. The parts that needed replacement, have been replaced by us with Shimano, as this brand is found everywhere.
We equipped each bicycle with luggage racks on the rear, cramponed pedals, 2 bottleholders.
We used the bob trailer for our extra gear. We love this trailer as i is extremely versatile. The one wheel makes it a true 4x4 trailer, the weight doesn't need to be balanced (we heard complaints from people who had one of those bicycle wheel 'one wheel' trailer, that they had to be super careful with the weight balance), also the drybag makes the trailer float when crossing rivers which is very handy. We've used the trailer for 15,000km we've regreased the bearings once, as maintenance, but actually it wasn't necessary. The only 2 downturns on the bob are 1) the weight. it is fairly heavy. 2) As they say on their website, the bob is not made for 29'ers. We had lots of derailleur hanger problems, as when going over obstacles, the bob attachment would push on the derailleur, benting the derailleur hanger (we took about 5 spare derailleur hangers).
We found some amazing tires at Decathlon in France (B'twin pneu vtt 9.90 euros). Rather than buying the superpricy marathon tires, we decided to give these 10 euro tires a try, we added a liner to them and we were stunned by their performance! The rear tires would blow between 4000-6000km, and not because the thread was worn out, but because our rims are made for tubeless tires, therefore the tire would wear out and blow around the rim. I don't remember any blown front tires, so most likely the front tires made 7000km (as we changed them between the two journeys). Also we had barely any flats. Knowing the rear tires would blow up after 4000km, we took 2 spares with us on our journeys.
As these tires are a little different size than the 29'ers, we used talk powder to ease putting the tires on the rim.
Panniers: We used the ortlieb bags, totally waterproof and light. Philippe had a cannondale front bag, it was made from fabric and not waterproof, this was annoying at times of rain. Leandra had a no brand front bag that was totally waterproof.
Clothing: On our first journey, we both had 1 pair of fast drying outdoor pants from Mountain Equipment coop, and 2 t-shirts each. We are respectful towards the dresscodes, therefore in the Middle eastern countries, we were always wearing pants and a t-shirt with short sleeves.
Our second journey, as we were travelling through western Europe, we decided to wear fast drying zip off pants and still 2 t-shirts. We chose to take only one pair of pants (besides our Goretex rain gear) to be light. Philippe was wearing Mountain hardwear Mesa zip off pants, Leandra had North Face paramount peak zip off pants. Great choice to have taken these. as it does save weight and space to take one pair of pants that can make shorts as well... Also we had one goretex soft shell each, and thick fleece sweater and we took buffs.
One lesson we learned is to ALWAYS have thermal underwear with you! We decided for a change not to take any thermal underwear on our journey to Northcape and around Iceland, and boy did we miss our thermals on those colder or windy days!
Shoes, For shoes, we just wear our regular hiking boots. Philippe has a pair of Han Wag Lima hiking boots, with which he is very content. after 15,000km they are still waterproof and still in excellent condition. Leandra had a pair of Merrel hiking boots. They are still incredibly comfortable, but they have never been waterproof, are too rubbery therefore make sweaty feet, the sole has split, and so has she sewing. Currently Leandra is awaiting her new Scarpa pro Nepal GTX hiking boots that are to replace the Merrells.
Raingear, Philippe has a Millet Goretex shell that we bought at an outrageous price. We were fairly dissapointed by this supposedly amazing goretex piece of equipment that after not many uses was starting to let water through (though I must admit that that's during days of full hard rainy weather). Leandra had a Schoffel Goretex shell, that was also letting water through after hours in pouring rain. For rain pants, we had TAKU shell pants from REI, we've been happy with them. Leandra had a pair of B'twin gaiters to protect her non'waterproof shoes. The gaiters were good to protect the top, but water would come in anyway from the bottom.
Sleeping, We used the same gear as usual.
Our good old 'Mammoth', The wonderful mountain 25, from The North Face, once again did an excellent job on keeping us dry and providing us a home.
For sleeping bags we both had a down sleeping bag from the brand Pyrenex. The brand Pyrenex is from the Spanish Pyrenees and is made with local high quality duck down. These sleeping bags are over 10 years old, and they are still amazingly good.
Inside our sleeping bags, we use silk liners from Mountain equipment coop.
We sleep on orange Thermarest prolight four season, the 3/4 length version of this matress. They do their job.
Cooking, drinking, Washing, We used our MSR whisperlite for our cycle journeys, this stove can use any kind of gas and is therefore very versatile (we've had this stove for over 10 years so it's noisy compared to the new whisperlite)also this stove is very reliable. We used a smaller 3l pan that actually came in a fondue set that we never used and therefore gave a use by taking it on our journeys!. our kettle was a small GSA hae tea kettle, that worked great and was light and fitted inside the cooking pot, to save space.
For drinking, we had our water purifying pills with us that we used to purify water from sources we did not trust. In Eastern europe and the middle east we were often buying water in the stores as there were few drinkable sources. In western and northern Europe, and in iceland we found lots of drinkable water along the way.
On our journey from France to Northcape and around Iceland, we gave ourselves a budget of 10 dollars a day including everything. Therefore we camped wild all the time. We washed in creeks and rivers... And if we couldn't find any we'd stop during the day at a campground (if we came across one), shower, and go again.
Electronics, We use a Brunton solaris 12 watt solar panel and a pixo c2 universal charger to charge all our batteries. We used rechargable batteries for our headlights and had a spare battery for both our Olympus stylus photo camera and our Canon hv10 HD video camera.
Hygiene, Since we were on a short budget the on our way to Northcape, we were washing in creeks and rivers. Whenever we felt we needed a wash, we would stop at the first river or creek we saw. Another method we used if there were no rivers in the area was to stop at a campground and ask to use their showers, we did this twice and were not told no. On our way to Egypt, we stayed in campgrounds once in a while and took our showers there.