Our friend Rhiannon took her Adventure Tour for a ride from London to Athens. This is her story.
Slowly tiring of the hectic bustle of London life, I often found that commuting on my Temple bicycle was the most enjoyable part of my day. It gave me the chance to ponder about adventuring out of London. With a slightly romanticized view, my boyfriend Tom and I decided now was our chance to see Europe, while we’re still European citizens. We thought: why not take our time over it and travel by bicycle?
I bought my Temple three years ago for commuting 12 miles a day and for the occasional longer weekend ride too. It had been a joy to ride and perfect for this but I knew it would need a few updates for this trip - those 9 gears wouldn’t get me across the 1900 meter passes that were to come. The Temple team in Bristol were at hand to talk me through the options and I was booked in for some updates. The straight handlebars, which were perfectly comfortable for my London commute, were replaced with drops to allow me to have a variety of different positions on the bike – pretty crucial if you are going to spend five months in the saddle, sometimes cycling 10 hours a day. My nine gears doubled to eighteen. A strong rack to take the weight of my luggage was added to the back. With as little kit as possible, no experience of cycling for more than two days on the trot, and not much of a route planned (just a list of recommendations that we had been collecting whilst planning our trip for the last six months) we were ready to set off.
We cycled off on a typically British rainy May morning that turned into four days of torrential rain and two punctures on the first day. It could only get better, right? Once the rain had passed, France soon became the ideal place to start our adventure thanks to its well-signposted cycle routes, a multitude of quiet country roads to choose from and a quaint campsite or two in every village, so we were never short of places to pitch up. We found out it was fête season and many villages we cycled through were celebrating, all dressed in traditional costume eating local delicacies, which we couldn’t help but stop and try. As we cycled further south the weather started to heat up. We had to change tactics - getting up earlier, having longer lunch breaks (often including a snooze) and then cycling again in the cooler evenings. Following rivers, the Atlantic coast, more rivers with gorges and through mountain ranges we made it all the way to the Mediterranean in four weeks.
Next was Italy where we became a little more adventurous and took to wild camping at every possible opportunity. The money we saved on the campsites we spent in restaurants. Our first night in Italy we ate at a traditional restaurant up in the hills above the Italian Riviera that served mushrooms in every dish. Before arriving at the restaurant we scouted out an appropriate bush to camp behind - not the most scenic spot but due to the steep banks we didn’t have many options. It turned out that ants had made it their home before us and we were woken by them crawling all over us at 4am. These weren’t the only things to wake us up whilst wild camping. Wild boars, fishermen, and tractors all had a go on separate occasions. From the dramatic, picturesque Riviera coastline we headed into beautiful rolling hills with historic hilltop towns, which then turned into mountains.
As we reached the Balkans we started zig zagging erratically between the cooler mountains and the coast. Slovenia was a cyclist’s dream: mountains, quiet roads, blue rivers and friendly people willing to help and share advice. We hit Croatia in the first weekend of August and it seemed like the whole of Europe were on the roads too. Craving the sea, we headed for the wild Island of Cres where vultures nest on cliffs and circled above us. Luckily they didn’t seem too interested in sweaty, smelly cyclists. Bosnia was more complex; even getting across the border was a challenge. We always tried to use the smaller roads that were on our map, but this time the asphalt road turned into a dirt track, then a footpath getting narrower and narrower and finally we reached concrete border barriers with warning signs of mines left over from the war – not something we were going to chance. By this time it was 7pm and the main road was about 80km away. Luckily we found a guesthouse in the nearest town and even though they we were fully booked they let us pitch our tent in the garden and use the hose outside to wash off. We continued our journey the next morning and made it over the border. Throughout Bosnia there were lots of abandoned villages which people had not returned to after the war and amazing high mountains with dirt roads. The people were friendly, often inviting us in for coffee. We even got to experience the celeb lifestyle with an appearance on the red carpet at Sarajevo Film Festival – for only €4.
Montenegro saw our highest mountain pass – 1900m. We were back to camping in the wild as mines were no longer a problem. Instead we had to watch out for bears and wolves in the mountains and wildfires near the coast. Albania was perhaps the poorest country but had the friendliest and most inquisitive people. Kosovo was the youngest country we cycled through. Its population was also surprisingly young, with lots of well-groomed millennials all hanging out in coffee bars. Macedonia had lakes that looked like the sea and spectacular mountains. When we were told that the word Balkan means blood and honey things started to make sense, as there was a complex, bittersweet feel to whole region.
Arriving in Greece felt more European and the prices doubled too. We found ourselves chasing the sun while the barking farm dogs chased us. We headed straight for the coast via a few islands. After 6500km of riding, we arrived in Athens. At first it was little bit of anticlimax but soon we were buzzing with feelings of excitement and self-achievement, and used the fact we cycled to Athens as an excuse to eat everything in sight.
Cycling gives you freedom and the independence of being under your own steam. It’s a slower, more challenging way to travel and by ending up in places you wouldn’t normally see as a tourist you get a better grasp of a country. Locals always want to chat and gaining local knowledge is pretty vital as we found out the hard way – Google maps isn’t always right! Things become simpler on the road - your worries turn to thoughts of when your next meal is and where are you sleeping tonight.
My custom built Adventure Tour had been a dream to ride but having had over four months together we were in need of some time apart. By the end I was ready to do something other than cycling and be in one place for a little while. Although, having now been back home for a month I’m already missing the adventure, freedom and carefree days…