The Forest to the Sea

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Epilogues

Several aspects of the Black to Black saga have wrapped up in the past few weeks. We return to the blog one last time to put the finishing touches on what has happened since returning from Romania.

Amazingly, donations to the fundraiser have continued to be contributed from a handful of our great friends. We have now surpassed the 150% mark of our goal (157% to be exact) and sit at $4,715. The total is far beyond anything that any of us ever anticipated, so we sit in awe at the generosity of so many astounding people. The Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation’s IPF Summit 2011 starts in just a couple weeks. Contributions from Black to Black have helped make this important meeting of scientists, doctors and patients from across the globe possible!  It is a great sign that the research community is focusing on finding a cure for the devastating disease. The PFF even paid special thanks to us in the most recent edition of their BREATHE Bulleting newsletter which will be distributed at the conference! Check it out on page 9 here.

Remember the mention of Anton losing his wallet before we had even left Germany? Well, two weeks ago a letter arrived at his new apartment in Ottawa. A letter from the Canadian Consulate in Munich. It stated that his wallet had been transferred there from the City of Erding (which we never even cycled through) and included all the cards and money that had been in it when he lost it! Just last week it arrived in Ottawa. Many thanks to the people and their good Samaratin nature that ensured his wallet returned safely to him.

Finally, Tarantino has returned home to England. Not without some mishaps though. Tom’s own words describe it best:

“I arrived at the Bratislava train station 2 hours later than planned, 2 hours exactly before my flight and still a 30 minute trip away from the airport. I decided to head for the taxi rank but on the way down a bus pulled up. It was number 210, the number the train dude had told me was the airport bus. I motioned to the driver, did some airplane arms and said “Flughafen? Airport?” He said, “Yes yes, get on you crazy foreigner.” So I dragged the bubbly tandem on (incidently, at no point between my flat and the airport did anybody offer to help me, not even to help get on or off trains and buses) and off we went. Except we weren’t going to the airport, we were going to the BUS STATION! I did the arm thing again when we stopped and the guy went “Ahhhhh, Lestisko!”. I guess that means airport. Nice to know for next time. I legged it through the station, two and a half meters of metal on my shoulders. By this point I was starting to get quite weak. I found the airport bus stop only to find the bus had left a minute ago so it had to be a taxi. The lovely helpful Slovakian bloke crushed it in his boot, overcharged me by about 10 euros and got me there with, barely, time to spare.

Of course when the jerk at oversized baggage went “Not possible” because it didn’t fit through the thingy, even though it only needed to be moved a millimeter to the side, I was beyond the point of caring about being nice. The bike was flying. I tried to reach over and adjust it so it fit through, but she got really angry and slapped at my hands, shouting “You not understanding me, it is not possible.” I just kept repeating that it was until she sighed, nudged it a bit and pressed the button to send it on its way. Honestly, she must have been either very bored or pure evil to bother pissing me off at that stage.

The rest was easy, triumphantly emerging with the Tarantino at Liverpool airport to find Woody’s dad waiting to take her home. It’s now three days on and my arms are still killing me. I’ve got strained muscles all the way down from my shoulders to my wrists. She might have given us some great memories, but she’s a massive pain in the ass.”

Black to Black provided many a good memory. We’re all happy to be moving into winter now though without our metal steeds giving us the occasional low among the many highs.

So long,

Anton, Tom and Woody

Last View of the Danube


Beginnings and Endings: Border Crossings

Here’s some photographic evidence that proves we really did ride from the Black Forest to the Black Sea:

The Source in Germany!

Austria (a.k.a Schmuggler's Way)

Slovakia...apparently

Hungary

Croatia

Serbia

Romania

Bulgaria

The Black Sea in Romania!


Beer Gardens Of Honour

As Tom and Anton have both below covered most of the good and the great of the 22 days cycling across Eastern Europe I’ll just give my brief (ahem, expert) opinion on some of the beer gardens we frequented along the way, barely a duffer amongst them…

Whilst my German is still pigeon at best even I could sniff out the “biergartens” on offer in south Germany and Austria, and they didn’t disappoint. Whether it be on an Island on the Danube with a Cathedral view in Ulm, supping with the Gods in a monastery on the banks of the river or a traditional Bavarian spot with enough lederhosen floating around to make any nearby cows run a mile it’s safe to say we enjoyed this leg of the trip. Drinking like Kings in a beer garden in a Castle up a massive hill in Passau also passed the time, beat that.

First Beers of Black to Black in Donaueschingen

Nice Stop for a Radler outside of Sigmaringen

Monk's Abbey Beergarden

Budapest threw up a contender for beer garden of the trip in the fantastically eclectic Szimpla bar. From a band playing what could loosely be described as “music” to the buzzing atmosphere and paraphernalia dotted around the place we knew this would be hard to beat. Whilst the midnight hour striking sent us packing for a much needed rest I for one will return to this place in the future to do it justice. Venturing south in Hungary and expecting little from the small town of Kalocsa we were confronted by a beer garden of biblical proportions. Biblical in the sense it could have doubled as Noahs legendary Ark, apart from the midges flying in two by two this was an absolute winner with top notch food and cracking decor in the attached pub to boot.

Gabcikovo's Local Bar

Trofea Sorozo in Kolocsa, Hungary

Trofea Sorozo's Ark Beer Garden

Croatian beer gardens offered nothing spectacular to write home about but the locals were friendlier than a bunch of keen Jehovah’s witnesses and they definitely knew how to pepper a waterside with decent drinking establishments. Serbia was a country none of us knew that much about but came out top of the trumps with the holy trinity of good beer gardens, friendly locals and cracking scenery. Novi Sad proved the exception to prove the rule that many mainland European countries shut down on a Sunday with one street in particular transforming into a 100m long, 10 bar, beer garden deluxe that was still rocking when I managed to drag Anton away around midnight whilst he was still tying the laces on his dancing shoes. Belgrade went along the more traditional route with some baritone singers providing the sound track to several enjoyable beverages before we discovered the joys of shots of Rakia, nice.

Beer Garden under Novi Sad's Fortress

Busy Alley in Novi Sad

The final leg skirting along the borders of Romania and Bulgaria started slow with some Romanian towns that offered little in the way of aesthetic wonderment but beers that danced their way down my throat showing a larger can indeed be “all that”. We were then lead on a merry dance by our lovely hotel receptionist Veneta in the Bulgarian town of Svistov who like the Pied Piper showed us to a hidden gem of a beer garden, the Meghana Bai Ganio, complete with a water wheel, squawking parots, Bulgarian paraphernalia adorning the walls and many a great beer.

Tom and Woody in Meghana Bai Ganio

Meghana Bai Ganio

Woody's Chicken Sword

 

After about 2500km we were sure we’d found our winner and so it proved with only some nice if unspectacular beer gardens to finish the tour to the Black Sea. However stumbling across a gangster hideout / lair that doubled as a beer garden/swimming retreat was welcome relief from the heat of the day. And don’t get me wrong, supping frosty beer after frosty beer on the beach at the black sea whilst the sun went down was good and all, just gets a little samey after a while. Jealous some? Fantastic trip and thanks for all those who’ve sponsored us on our merry way. And to Tom and Anton, don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much in 3 weeks. Apologies for the daily lubeing ritual.

Woody

Last Sunset over the Danube in Silistra, Bulgaria


The ups and downs of Danube Cycling

I’m sat in my flat in Vienna, reading Ezra’s post from far away Bucarest and it’s got me going over my favourite moments of our epic cycle. It’s great to be home…I knew from the first hungover moments in Constanta the morning following our arrival and subsequent celebrations that I wanted to get back to Vienna…but joy at homecoming is definately mingled with sadness that it is over and some weird daydreaming moments when I feel like I’m ghost cycling. Hell, yesterday Dani and I even went for a swim in the Danube, I think I just wanted to check it was still there! So, two days after leaving hot, scary, messy, rundown Bucarest, here are my ups and downs, in no particular order…I’ll start with the lows.

  • The first heavy pangs of wrist pain after a day or two and losing the feeling in my fingers. The inside of each little finger is still a little numb.
  • The often mentioned twisted wheel and the guilt of thinking for a few moments that I had wrecked all our grand plans. Lucky I knew there was a bike repair shop around the corner…
  • Arriving in Passau, wet and tired after 160km and discovering our hostel was in a castle up a 22% incline…on a cobbled road!
  • The after-Radler lethargy (or letharg, as it came to be know) following an incredible morning ride to Krems, Austria.
  • Leaving Vienna…passing through home and spending time with Dani made the days after Vienna psychologically very tough. The endless, unshaded, dirt track along the Viennese Danube to Bratislava didn’t help.
  • The oncoming of hot weather which caused my worst, grumpiest day from Gabcikovo to Ezstergom. Very happy to be off the saddle that day after too much heat, losing Ezra and getting lost which added 10km to our ride.
  • Rain and roadworks cycling into Budapest, and terrible cycle paths leaving the city the next day. There were points on that day I thought it would be impossible to make it, assuming the paths would get worse and worse. It was a very pleasant surprise to find Hungary was actually only a temporary low on cycling road maintainence. Once we got past a particularly bad bit of sandy track and a local thug who tried to block our way and demand GPSs (we weren’t about to hand over our human GPS Ezra) my mood improved.
  • Arrival in Romania, industry galore and the strange contrasts of Turnu Severin with it’s incomplete buildings and lovely modern boulevards with multi-coloured fountains.
  • Trying to get my change back from a particularly aggressive Romanian family, not a pleasant experience.
  • The bloody kids who put a skipping rope across the road…really annoying!!
  • Hot punctures in Bulgaria which timing our approach on the hilly bit to the hottest part of the day.
  • Drivers on the final day to Constanta…twice I genuinely thought I would have to ride off the road and into a tree.
And the now the highs…
  • Cycling in Germany – beautiful cliff valleys and castles on day 1, the ferry near Regensberg, gorgeous forest paths.
  • German towns – they may have got a little samey, but most were very pretty. Ulm and Regensberg were my personal favourites.
  • Setting the tandem on turbo with a good, flat path and a tail wind to rocket through the countryside and past all the day trippers. That thing sure can fly.
  • Our company from Passau to Vienna – it was so cool to be able to share a part of the experience with Dani, Claudia and Pete. My favourite bit was the wine drinking, flamenco music night in Krems.
  • Some great, speedy riding down the side of the dam beyond Bratislava where the Danube widened to lake-like proportions. Really beautiful.
  • The basilica at Ezstergom that you could see from about 15km away.
  • Discovering we had drunk 3 beers at 10% in Gabcikovo and deciding if that was the case a forth wouldn’t hurt.
  • The ride to Budapest from Ezstergom…great scenary and interesting towns.
  • Hot bathing in Budapest. The only negative thing about it was that we couldn’t do it every night.
  • The afternoon ride after the Croatian border up and along wine terraces, screaming downhill and making good time to make up for a break pad cursed morning, rolling into Osijek, a very cool city, for one of the best thirst quenching beers of the trip and an incredible apartment to make ourselves comfortable for an evening. Judging by the village people photo, perhaps a bit too comfortable…
  • Fantastic riding towards Serbia on the Croatian side with sweaty climbs, rushing downs and picturesque villages.
  • Serbia – friendly people, great riding (Iron Gates in particular) and two incredible cities in Novi Sad and Belgrade.
  • The relief of laughing for about an hour about our narrow escape from the dogs outside Belgrade. I now genuinely know what it must be like to live in a Jurassic Park movie and experience the moment when you realise there’s a hole in the fence…
  • The mega, high fiving dash across the Romanian flood plains to rack off 180km in 9 hours. Very exhilerating.
  • Arriving in Svistov and discovering relative modernity, less wild dogs and mostly complete buildings that weren’t about to fall in on us.
  • Welcoming hosts – the apartment owners in Osijek, Ivan in Belgrade who gave us a tour and our receptionist in Svistov who took us to her friend’s birthday party!
  • Singing to keep the spirits up on the climbs…we don’t know when, but at some point this kind of morphed into a musical adventure.
  • Most of the fantastic riding in Bulgaria – good roads, challenging hills and great scenary.
  • That point in Constanta when, after the third beer you realised you could have another, or another two, or even more, and no one in the world could make you get up at 7am, put on your indescribably skinky cycling shorts and ride saddle sore for 120km+. Made it all worth while.

Back to the Future

It is day 20, country number 8, 2 days to go until Constanta and (fingers crossed) our first sight of the Black Sea. The Danube was never gonna let it be easy though…

After our encounter with fellow cyclists outside Belgrade we passed into the Iron Gates, a dramatic gorge like valley crowned at the entrance by the mighty fortress of Golubec. It was definately the scenic highlight of the trip, although it did throw in some enormous climbs and pitch black tunnels, the first of which I zoomed into with my sunglasses on and wondered why I couldn’t even see the white lines. The final tunnel, 350m long, was so dark we could hardly see the road and ended up crashing into the curb and losing our panniers in the blackness.

The next challenge was Romania, a whole different ballgame. Without trying to build it up too much we set our targets on a 180km day across the flood plains and, in the main, it went very smoothly. We passed through village after village in the kind of poverty you don’t really expect to find in the EU. Woody delighted in waving at smiling old folk sat sleepily by the side of the road and kids ran straight out to greet us with high fives and, in our particularly annoying instance at the start of  a huge climb, a skipping rope held across the road at neck level. They seemed to find it very amusing. We also suddenly became the fastest thing on the road as car were replaced with horse and donkey drawn carts.

Our over night stop in Bechet, which was a bit shit, was about as rural as we’ve gone. There was a disco though in our hotel, only active on Saturdays, but the hotel owners son decided to turn on the entire thing just for us, spin some techno tracks with brain numbing bass, get out the chairs and turn on the lasers. We just stood in the middle of the empty dance floor with a beer in our hand wondering what the hell we were supposed to do next. We were saved from pulling out the upper body dance (lower body being exhausted after the 180km) by the lads father who came downstairs to turn it all off before all of his guests left.

We’d had enough of the flood plain and the scenery was monotonous to say the least, so we decided to make it another bit one and get to Bulgaria. Despite a flat on Ezra’s back wheel we made the ferry in the nick of time and, after navigating the most disturbingly smelly and industrial border I’ve ever seen on the Bulgarian side, we made it to Svistov and breathed a sigh of relief. We’d arrived, back in the future. Supermarkets, vehicles powered by motors and not animals, banks, and other such things we take for granted.

Bulgaria has still had it fair share of new challenges to throw at us on day 20…it’s got hot again, we scaled the biggest hill of the tour this morning, got another flat and a broken spoke on the outskirts of Ruse, where I now sit in the English Guest House. Just to keep him on his toes, Woody got stung/bit by some nasty bug coming into town that made him curse and shout, but at least he forgot his arse pain for a while. There’s more to come, big climbs tomorrow and then, on the final day, our map showed about 8km of hilly COBBLED streets. If that doesn’t send all our spokes pinging out into the Bulgarian Danube then maybe we’ll be in Constanta on Monday…

Thanks so much for all your contributions to our fund raising efforts, it’s really incredible that we’ve pushed way beyond our target! Cheers!

Tom


Musical moments and the kings of Faff

Heyhey!

 

Been a while since I posted my musing on the journey so far, mainly due to my inability to keep up with modern technology meaning using an iPhone is about as efficient as sending each post individually by carrier pigeon to the 3 people that are probably reading this. Anyway, since the last rendition we’ve visited no fewer than 5 countries, 4 of which were new points of call for this sore cyclist.

 

Rather than bore you to death with the details of the astounding beauty we’ve been passing along the way I’ll just share a few of my personal highlights:

Watching Anton boogie with the best of them on stage with Ojos De Brujo’s gig at Kremms in Austria before limping back to the hostel as if he’d been victim of a particularly stringent airport security staff check.

Crossing the none existent border into Slovakia to then experience the aesthetically pleasing 48 hours of my life. Not to want to seem shallow in any way shape or form I feel as though as the only single member of the trio it is my obligation, nay duty, to mention the ridiculous numbers of outrageously attractive women seem to swan around that lovely country. They.Are.Everywhere. From ridiculous to sublime we certainly all enjoyed a lunchtime cool off on one day at a local swimming spot where clothing appeared to be more optional than at your local community pool. Enough said. The Slovakian town of Gabicovo also provided an excellent drinking hole, only 3 beers to the good did we realise that we were supping on 10% ales that made the cool local bars all the more entertaining.

In to Hungary and the thermal spar’s were a joy to behold, as was the beer garden in the ruined building. Of all the stops so far Budapest was the hardest to leave after only one night stay. But plod on to the sea we must, and to be honest, if we stopped every time i fancied having more than a beer or 4 in a nice beer garden, we’d still be struggling somewhere in Bavaria.

Next into the Friendliest Country In The World, Croatia, for just one day and night. Can’t describe to you how nice the people are there and would definitely want to go back to Osijek to delve into the derelict site that acts as the clubbing centre for the site. Again the party will have to wait until we see the sea…

Now into Serbia, as I sit here its 35 degrees and we’ve just finished 3 days in this heat that were 150km,150km and 90km respectively. A mission out of Novi Sad in a 45 minute steep climb sweated out the beers from the night before without a problem. We arrived in ‘Sad on a Sunday night thinking most things would shut up shop and could not possibly be more wrong. I had to tear Anton away from donning his boogieing shoes around midnight as the party continued to rock on around us. The atmosphere was bouncing, I like Serbians.  Just about to hit Belgrade now and have no doubt forgotten a million things to write about but shall sign off now with a few final thoughts.

If either Tom or I ever end up travelling with you, prepare to faff. faff like you’ve never faffed before. We’ve now lost 2 of the maps we need (fortunately both on the last day we needed them, for the record, I blame Tom) and ritualistically misplace things delaying our progress. Some things never change and 4 years on from the last trip we still have inefficiency at heart.

And finally because we’ve been musing over this whilst the km fly by here a few songs inspired by the river flowing by

 

For when we’re lost : Find the River , REM

For when we find our way again: I Saw the Sign, Ace of Base

For when Tom drove the bike in to a pothole: Cry Me a River , Justin Timberlake

Getting the ferry on unpassable straights: The Riverboat Song, Ocean Colour Scene

Having a rant about the rubbish cycle paths: Told My Troubles to the River, Tom Mcrae

 

Temporary memory lapse means can’t remember any mroe but shall hopefully update again soon.

In a bit, a tantastic Woody


Why you should always look at the sky before popping to the loo…

One third of our 23 days, almost 1000 km and we’ve reached our first capital city. I’m sat in my flat in Vienna, pondering how comfy it all looks compared to the thought of getting on that bike again. Once you’re on the road, getting wind blasted and bumping over tree roots that burrow themselves under the asphalt, it’s worth it. The sense of satisfaction (and the general mood of optimism that we can actually make it all the way) grows each day. We have, however, been theorizing occasionally on the nature of pain. The first thing you notice is that you generally just feel one pain at a time, perhaps the body creates new pains just to distract from the original. Secondly, pain can appear in places you never knew you had. Today those theories have been blown out the window; I have no single point of pain, it’s a general body feeling, a head to toe ache.

Germany was almost finished with a flourish after the initial broken wheel difficulties. We were rocking the second 150km day to the Austrian border when disaster struck: Ezra’s wallet left lying on a bakery counter 20km behind us. As he sped off to try and locate it I decided it would be a lovely moment for a toilet stop in an outhouse of a riverside cafe. The moment bum touched seat I heard the first drip drip dripping of rain on the window. Poor Woody was forced to wait patiently in the downpour while I did the necessary and, in very low spirits, we spashled through the storm to Passau. Woody’s frustration at being forced to hang around for me was amplified significantly by the fact that Ezra, who set off 5 minutes earlier, arrived bone dry, keeping just ahead of the cloud. Whoops.

In Passau we picked up Austrian companions for the Austrian leg, Dani, her sister Claudia and boyfriend Pete.  Austria’s ridiculously good signage and smooth bike paths have made for good riding but we hope, on arrival in Vienna, the others have had a taste of the pleasures and the pains of long distant cycling. They endured it all with no complaints and were running at a great pace, although they couldn’t keep up with the gliding speed of the Tarantino on a good long bit of flat. Average speed would be around 35km/hr if we actually watched out of signs occasionally instead of chatting and didn’t have to backtrack to a missing junction every 10 minutes. It’s a kind of tortoise and the hare affair as Ezra and the others plod on patiently behind with his superb internal GPS, with no maps, never getting lost.

We ended our time as a six-some on a high with a excellent Ojos de Brujo concert in Krems last night. We drank a little too much white wine, which made for a sloggy day through the drizzle into Vienna, but managed to shake the tiredness out enough to have a good dance (mainly using the less weary upper body parts) and Ezra even ended up on stage for a boogie with the band.  Tonight it’s friends in Vienna, tomorrow it’s the great unknown…Slovakia, Hungary and beyond, back down to the three of us. We’ll keep you posted…

Tom