2 Month Musings

May 30, 2019

This marks the first blog publication from us since we hit the road just over two months ago. Up until this point it isn’t something either of us have really given a thought to, preferring to provide brief insights for those interested in our journey via the visual formats of our Instagram and through the video ‘episodes’ on our YouTube channel (If you haven’t checked these out, and you think you may find our trip interesting, then please do!).

Having made it to Tbilisi in Georgia, where we will take a good few days off the bikes, we thought it would be the perfect time to take a deep breath and offer some kind of an overarching evaluation of the ride thus far. The first thing to note is that we can’t quite believe it has been two months since we left from Robert Walters’ offices in Covent Garden. Prior to setting off for Tokyo, the most either of us had ridden on a bike was a three day trip from London to Paris in October last year, and that was with the comfort of the Euro Star waiting to whisk us back to our day to day lives before we got too adventurous! We have already had too many incredible experiences to count, from meeting remarkable people who have taken us in for the night as if we were their own family, sleeping in rogue places like motorway underpasses, beaches and half built vacant buildings, scaling mountain passes and experiencing niche local traditions. The good times and the bad, they have all surmounted to what has already been a life-changing experience for us both. The first ’chapter’ of the trip saw us cycling diagonally right the way across Europe through UK, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and finally Turkey.
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MAY, 2019
The initial riding kindly provided pancake flat terrain and a vast network of official cycle paths in the northern reaches of Europe, helping us to ease into our new daily routine of eat, cycle, eat, cycle, sleep, repeat.  We were also facing a daily barrage of pastry eating, convinced that we had no other choice given the shock our bodies were likely to receive from the sudden, constant burning of thousands of calories every day. Suitably fuelled, the journey across the continent was predominantly played out along two rivers; The Rhine and The Danube, both of which sandwiched a stint across the Bavarian Hills in which we both fell in love with the German countryside, particularly its seemingly endless pine forests. We agree this is a place we would like to revisit again in the future.  In all fairness, despite the lucky weather and successful adjustment to life on the road, there were times when we both felt as if it was quite a comfortable existence and perhaps too similar to life back home, certainly in the context of fantasies we had both played out in our minds of the far flung lands we are now experiencing! After comfortable city breaks in Vienna and Budapest, these notions most certainly began to peel away to reveal a much harsher way of life in the Balkan region with Romania and Bulgaria still seemingly nursing a hangover from past hardships and current economic trouble, particularly in rural areas away from the ‘economic growth’ centres of the city. A number of villages really did feel slightly medieval. Nevertheless, we only ever experienced sincere kindness from the people in these countries and it was here we started to notice the theme that is often those with the least are the first ones to offer their hand to help you.
Following a passage over the Balkan Mountain Range we made for Turkey where we would be spending near enough 3 weeks- the second longest stint in any one country after China. It’s fair to say we were absolutely blown away. Within 6 hours of entering the country and subsequently the city of Erdine, we had been bought dinner by a random guy called Hakan we had bumped into on the street, and were then put up by some students (Enes and Enez), with whom we had linked up with on the Warm Showers app. We sat with them in their smoke filled living room chatting until the early hours while they ordered us kebabs despite insisting we weren’t hungry. They treated us to a tour of the old Ottoman capital city the next day and we knew we were in for a treat across the rest of the country. We came to term Turkish hospitality as ‘brutal hospitality’ as often whoever was helping us would be adamant they knew exactly what we wanted and wouldn’t let our own needs & desires be adhered to! Turkey is a beautiful country and we were lucky enough to sample some of the Black Sea Coast along which we found a couple of stunning beaches that we enjoyed in private as it seems Turkish people don’t go on holiday until the temperature reaches 30 degrees- cue skinny dipping. Turkey will be remembered as the first country that really prodded the taste buds of travel, so to speak. Call to prayer, crazy Istanbul drivers, menemen (eat it now), hospitality like you wouldn’t believe, mountains, beaches, rain, sun, and snow all added up to an unforgettable Turkish experience. Without doubt the country we entered into next, and are currently situated in, has provided the highlight of the trip so far. Georgia is sprawling with snow capped mountains and towering hills of green forest among its multiple national parks. Alongside its natural beauty, it has hospitality to match its Turkish neighbour, as we found out on the first night when we were taken in by local English teacher Gulnara while passing through a small village in the mountains east of the coastal city of Batumi. All that needs to be retold here for you to get an idea of the experience is that 6 hours after entering the house we had both passed out in various random locations in the house due to over consumption of the home-made cognac and wine. Georgia, we’re convinced, is a country that should be attracting tourists in far greater numbers- it truly is a stunning country. As we look forward, the comforts of home and the European cycle paths get ever more distant, particularly as we prepare to enter the slightly more arid environments of Azerbaijan and the Stans where we will spend the majority of our time either in the desert or in the vast Pamir mountains of Tajikistan. We absolutely cannot wait to see what awaits us in the coming months and as ever thank you so much to everyone who has supported us and/or donated to our fundraising target! We are dragging ourselves up every morning to cycle big distances to help stop men dying too young, and supporting the incredible work done by the Movember Foundation. If you can help in any way we would be so grateful. Furthermore we are supporting the Ian Williams Foundation in memory of my good pal who passed away suddenly last year- 10 % of all funds raised will go to that charity. Finally, a massive shout out to all those who have given up their time to ride with team Hairy Handlebars since we departed: the Robert Walters lads on Day 1, Martin, Paul, Jack, Hugh and Khino the dog.

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