Caught with my trouser down in Austria
Bratislava is very close to the border and soon enough I was in Austria. My first day in Austria was one of those days where i learned a lot of lessons. Lesson number one, everything and i mean everything closes on a Sunday (it actually closes at one on a Saturday and stays closed for the rest of the weekend!). This was a shock as i had come from the hustle and bustle of Bratislava, i must admit it was quite ominous as i passed through villages and saw literally three people in the space of a couple of hours
. This lead to lesson number two, Austria is very expensive! As nowhere was open i was forced to get some lunch from a petrol station, i know petrol stations are expensive but i didn't get much change from 10 Euro, which was a shock having been in relatively cheap countries. To make matters worse it was cold and grey and not really interesting to ride. Lesson number three came later that evening, it was a pretty rubbish day so I was looking forwards to trying some Austrian beer as I sat in my tent in the woods by the side of the road. I was a little shocked however to find on closer inspection that instead of yummy Austrian beer in my haste I had managed to pick up German NON ALCOHOLIC beer! Disappointed didn't quite cover it and from now on i will always read the label and check for the dreaded 0% Alc. The next morning came lesson number five always camp away from paths and roads. I was camping in the woods about 5 meters from a dirt farm track. There were no houses or settlements nearby and my tent was well hidden, so i felt pretty much guaranteed that no one would come by. I had woken up, eaten my breakfast when I realised that I needed to answer a call of nature. I was happily doing so when to my embarrassment I suddenly spotted a guy stood staring at my tent. He had obviously stopped by the main road to walk his dog. I could see by the look on his face that he was quite surprised. As i was certain no one would drive let alone walk down this track I was very much in view a few meters right of my tent lent against a tree with only a small bush between me and the road. I was seconds away from quite literally being caught with my trousers down. I was racking my brain thinking for what to say in German in this situation. I had settled on a "hallo" and a cheeky smile when to my surprise he looked ahead for his dog and continued walking apparently failing to spot me most probably as he was so transfixed by the tent and bike. If this was the case or if he had just seen me and looked way to avoid embarrassment I am unsure however it was to much of a close call so from now on I'm always getting further from any sort of path
! The final lesson was learned that evening when I was hunting through my bag for my new spork (knife, spoon and fork all in one) which mum had brought to Bratislava to replace one that broke. As i searched the lesson dawned on me, camouflage green really isn't a good colour for a spork. I had been camping in very long grass and obviously the camouflage was so affective i couldn't even see it right in front of me when i packed up, the new spork lasted a measly one day. My yearly cold strikes
Soon it started to get even colder and rain, so i searched for a hostel as camping was getting a bit tedious. The cold and wet had really started to affect me and by the time I got to Graz I was full of cold with a headache and consuming large amounts of Lemsip to keep myself going, I had a day in bed which went some way to helping but I was later to find it would take a lot longer to get shot of it. One interesting shopping experience happened when I ran out of Lemsip. I was really annoyed, when I get tired I get a head cold (a bunged up head, head ache and really sweaty around my eyes) Lemsip seems to be the cure and no matter how bad I feel, I drink a Lemsip then feel good for a couple of hours. I went to a drug store similar to super drug and spent ages searching and trying to explain to the staff what I wanted. After talking to a few people a qualified pharmacist was called for and instantaneously on looking at the packet said "Apotheke" (chemists) apparently even Lemsip is too hardcore for the Austrians and has to be carefully sold in a chemists
. As luck would have it the next day I stopped at the first Apotheke I saw and one of the staff spoke some English, even luckier they had exactly what I was after NeoCitran which appears to be identical to Lemsip although at least twice as heavy which was a bit annoyed about. Turkish taster
I had a really nice moment in Graz. I was ill, the weather was crap and i had lost my enthusiasm to travel. The hostel was a very rubbish youth hostel and activity centre so there was no kitchen or common area. I decided I couldn't be bothered to cook anyway and fancied a kebab. I had walked past a place earlier that day so decided I would go and check it out. I found it again and wandered it to see three Turkish blokes sat round a table, drinking beer. They were dodgy looking mafia types. I asked for a kebab in German and was then confronted with a large reply. I was a bit worried but between them they managed to get their point across that they only had shish kebabs. I wanted a quick an easy take away but it now looked like I was having a sit down meal. As I waited he asked if I wanted a drink, I decided as i was eating in I might as well and pointed at the funny shaped bottles they had in the fridge as it was a beer I didn't recognise. When I got the bottle I was amazed to find that it was actually imported beer from Istanbul
. After a while I got talking and explained what I was doing as a couple of them spoke a few words of English as well as German, it turned out despite their daunting appearance they were actually really nice and couldn't believe I was cycling to turkey. The place had Turkish music playing and when not talking to me they were all talking Turkish. The food came and was amazing. As I sat there sipping my Istanbul beer I realised that I was getting a genuine taste of what was to come, it was a kind of appetiser for the rest of my trip. It worked and I left feeling exited about heading south and experiencing some more Turkish culture and was the best evening I had in Austria. A Tempting offer
In the south of Austria I started to hit the hills. The weather was still rubbish with thick fog. I had started climbing a small hill and was slowly spinning my legs round when the tractor that just passed me pulled up. As I neared he asked if I wanted a tow and waved a rope in direction. As much as it would have been an experience (possibly quite a dangerous one) I declined as I'm quite committed to using my legs for the whole trip. He looked surprised and then gave me a wave and a 'you are crazy look'. It turns out the reason for this was I was not actually climbing the small hill I had thought, I was actually embarking on a good hour of climbing up a mountain pass, but I like to think that even if I had known I would have still refused. As i approached Slovenia the terrain got hillier, more impressive and the weather better. Many of the hill sides were covered in vineyards which made a nice change. Something else I noticed was that every hill seemed to have a church or castle perched on top, it was all very picturesque. The first place I stayed was Maribor, it is the second largest place in Slovenia and hosts lots of world events (including world cup mountain biking, which I was unaware of) despite this no one seems to know about it
. Another claim to fame is that it contains the oldest vine in the world (over 400 years old) and it still produces wine although you have to be royalty or a president to be privileged to taste it. I decided not to visit after being told it's basically a twig, a very old twig. After pretty much getting thrown out of the hostel come check out time (very strange especially as the owner seemed pretty nice the night before) I headed off, not totally sure where I was heading. The scenery continued to be impressive (the whole country is basically hilly and beautiful) and for a change the weather was pretty good. One thing I was warned about is that the Slovenian police are very heavy handed when it comes to giving out fines, even to tourists who don't understand them (in fact that is often better because they won't speak English back to you, even though they can speak English and will then probably fine you more for pissing them off) . As it is against the law to wild camp, I decided I had better be careful (it is actually forbidden in most countries but the police don't normally care unless you are in the middle of a town). Because of this and because I was still a bit I'll I decided to search out a hostel which was en route. The hostel kitchen becomes a green room
I rolled up to a hostel late in the afternoon and could tell straight away that I had made a good choice
. The hostel was part of an arts complex with gallery space a cool cafe/bar and internet cafe etc. Local artists and graphic designers had done artwork which had then been pasted onto the walls. All the furniture was from Ikea and it was a really cool looking place. I had a whole dorm to myself, which is becoming quite common now it's off season (at least I hope it is that and not the smell of my feet putting people off!). I went to the kitchen to find that there was actually someone else staying. I asked the guy the usual questions how long have you been travelling etc Surprisingly he answered "I'm with the band, we have a gig in the venue downstairs". I hadn't realised there was also a gig venue and had forgotten that it was actually Friday night. I asked some more questions and found out that they were an indie band from the coast and by all accounts were actually doing pretty well, they had a record deal which apparently is very unusual for a Slovenian band especially when they sing in Slovenian. He asked if I fancied coming to watch and said he would put me on the guest list, I was really keen anyone who knows me will know how much I love gigs but I was also still feeling pretty bad and anyone who knows me will know that I don't do being ill. I thanked him and told him I would see how I felt later (they weren't going on stage until nearly midnight). A bit later I came in a found the kitchen had become a kind of green room. I got chatting to the rest of the band and they were all really nice guys
. They all looked very indie but (and i know i have said this before, but there was even more of a similarity) the guy i was talking to was the spitting image of Borat, with a massive moustache etc. After a while a bloke walked in (obviously from the bar) with a large bottle of jack Daniels, a jug of ice and some glasses, it was not long before i was offered a drink, it was all very rock and roll, I did laugh to myself as I seem to attract these unusual situations! I was really annoyed to be feeling so crap and in the end decided not to go watch the gig, I probably wouldn't have got any sleep if I did. This was confirmed the next morning at about 10:30 as I had my breakfast and watched them emerge one by one, all looking very much the worse for wear still in the same clothes and looking for all the things they had lost the night before (huge white indie sun glasses, keys etc). One of them looked a bit more with it than the rest an I managed to have a conversation with him. The gig had been good but apparently there were only about 100 people there which was a bit disappointing so they all got very drunk after. It was yet another unusual hostel experience and was nice to get to talk to some locals. The only bad thing which I realised afterwards is that they never told me the name of the band so I can't have a listen and see if they are any good, I will have to see if I can find a picture on google. So your the crazy cyclist then?
Now that it is getting colder there are far less cycle tourers (i.e. most people are sensible and only ride when the weather is good) especially in certain parts of Eastern Europe where not many people tend to venture. This means that often I'm the only person cycle touring which doesn't go un noticed as i found out in Slovenia. I had been riding all day (of course) and finally managed to find a hostel in a small town
. There was a strange vibe and one or two TV trucks so i figured something must have been happening. It later turned out that there was a local election on (i only know as the winning party were indeed partying late into the night in the bar below my room!). I needed some food and as there was no kitchen i decided i would venture a massive 10 meters down the street to the Chinese (I'm adventurous on my bike but once i have finished for the day i, like most people that have been exerting themselves become extremely lazy). I wandered in unsure of who would be the other side of the door, i am used to being greeted with funny stares and grunts and waiting a few seconds for people to eyeball me from head to toe before talking to me. However to my surprise i was greeted with a "hello, did you have a good ride?" i was a bit worried for a moment as it would appear that this guy was some kind of psycho, i mean psychic who knew everything (or he had been spying on me). He saw my worried look and said "oh sorry we saw you riding into town". "Few!" i thought, but it was a great ice breaker and its always nice when you are the only crazy person in town on a bike (i like getting away from the crowds). Croatia saw the start of the non EU countries which in my mind meant one thing....passport stamps! I was very pleased to not only get a stamp from Croatia but also an exit stamp from Slovenia, hopefully I should be able to get stamps from most of the countries so my passport will look a bit more like I have been traveling
The cranks stopped turning in Croatia
As is happening all to frequently at the moment i had a frustrating first day in Croatia, i was making good time and managed to get well over the border. It was just getting to the point where i was looking for somewhere to camp when my cranks (the bits the pedals attach to) took a break from spinning round peacefully as they had been doing for the last 6500km and decided to jam solid. I "put my foot down" as the saying goes, and luckily they freed however it was ominous and i knew straight away my bottom bracket was gone (the thing that holds the bearings for the cranks). To be fair i was amazed it had lasted this long, it was the one weak link on my bike which i was well aware of and had expected that i could be replacing it every 1000km (looking back on this, i probably should have realised that it might break quite soon, but I'm optimistic and skint). I was in a valley and the mist was already forming above the river even though the sun had not yet gone down, it was going to be a cold one. I was not in the best of moods, i knew that my chances of getting a spare in Bosnia were pretty slim besides that it was hundreds of kilometres away. I managed to get up out the valley and into the woods and sat in my tent slowly masticating my pasta pondering what to do. There was really only once choice which involved retracing my steps for 25km to Karlovac, not even knowing if there was a bike shop
. It was a gamble and i wouldn't be in an even worse frame of mind if i couldn't get it fixed there. The next day after a worryingly long search i managed to find a "proper" bike shop and then set out trying to explain the problem to the owner who only spoke a little English. Luckily his young helper came in half way though and spoke English so i was able to get my point across. As nothing is ever simple, they had the right type of bottom bracket but not the right length however he was confident it would work and insisted that 5mm would make a difference (people in Eastern Europe are much more adaptable). As it was a busy day he said he would fix it in the evening, so i should bring it back in the afternoon and then pick it up at 7:30! (they have long working hours here). I set about finding a place to stay. It turned out that the cheapest place was a village about 4km out of town there there were lots of home stays. I knew exactly where as it was on the road i had already ridden twice in the last 12 hours. I picked a place from the brochure in the tourist office and headed off. I happened to pick one i had noticed the previous day, only because it had a sign saying 10 euros a night and i remember thinking to myself "that's pretty good value, i wonder what its like" so i did kind of laugh as i rolled up to the house and saw the sign. It was run by a lovely farmers wife who didn't speak any English but spoke a bit of German. Soon i was riding back into town covering the 4km stretch for the 4th time in 24 hours
. I got to the bike shop and tentatively left Rose in his (hopefully) capable hands. After a few hours waiting (and drinking tea whist stealing wireless internet from a shop across the street) i returned to a much quieter bike shop where Rose was displayed in the middle of the floor complete with new chain and bottom bracket and looking pretty perfect. I was very relieved. The guy who owned the shop was really interested in the special Rohloff gears i use on my bike and asked if they were any good. Soon we got chatting about cycle touring and it turned out he had done some touring mostly round Europe. After a while his wife turned up, she was also keen on cycling and they had done lots of touring together. I showed them where i was headed and soon they were showing me holiday snaps of Croatia on their computer and were giving me advice on some of the places they had cycled. They had also been to Eurobike, a massive bike show in Germany. There they had met a few (really crazy) people who had cycled all over the world and done ten's of thousands of kilometres, and soon i was being show amazing pictures of them with these people and their bikes as well as all sorts of other cool bikes etc. We chatted for at least an hour and they were a lovely couple. We exchanged details, said our good buys and i headed off in search of food, as it was now well after nine and my 5 minute trip to pick my bike up had turned into an hour and a half of nattering (i don't know where i get it......well actually i do its my dads fault!). So once again all was good and i set off to cover the 25km for the third (and hopefully final) time, next stop Bosnia I Herzegovina.
So Since my last post i have ridden from Slovakia threw Austria, Slovenia and into Croatia. It was strange leaving Bratislava as for the past few weeks I had either had company or had a target to keep me motivated. It sounds odd, but in a way meeting up with family was a bit like going home so leaving and suddenly being on my own again, knowing I wouldn't see my mum and sister for another few months, was quite strange.