A change of plans (and a bit of reflection)
Myla’s plan after Istanbul was to try Wwoofing in Croatia – and I decided to join her. Enthusiasm for this idea was mutual (I believe!). This was a particularly neat plan because from there I could cycle home again!
I had become a bit jaded with the cycling after reaching the Danube, which is funny because – as one of the continent-spanning Eurovelo routes – I had just assumed this would be the best bit. Some cyclists-come-big-thinkers somewhere (probably Brussels) had thought this out, right; planned it to the last detail? In fact it was rubbish; boring dusty roads with scant views of the river (no cycle paths after Budapest), poor camping opportunities and maraudered by mosquitos at night. Not long after Budapest I abandoned my planned route and made a beeline for Istanbul instead but riding on motorways wasn’t ideal either.
On a Serbian road nowhere in particular and certainly a long way from any cycle routes I bumped into an extremely weathered looking Frenchman on a bike spilling with lashed-on luggage. He was cycling home from Beijing and told me he had actually been on the team that developed the Eurovelo 6 route, which starts on the French Atlantic coast and runs up the Rhine then hops onto the Danube and follows it down to the Black Sea. The countries involved in the Western half had been keen to work with his team and spend money to develop cycle paths where advised but after Austria interest had fizzled, apparently, and the creators of the EV6 had been left to cobble together whatever roads were near the river for the remaining thousand or so miles. This was exactly where I had joined the route and he admitted that the result was crap.
The other problem was the heat. I had been anxious from the start; heading South as Summer progressed? Poor timing, perhaps. It has been a particularly balmy Summer on the continent though. Even in London the July heatwave smashed records at 37°C! This meant a lot of scorched, sorry looking landscapes, too. I longed for the wholesome sight of happy cattle feeding on verdant, green pastures.
So! The route was dissapointing and it was too hot. By flying to Croatia I could solve both these problems for a return journey. I would skip to a cooler latitude and rebegin as Summer turned to Autumn after a hiatus from cycling. The Adriatic coast is known to be beautiful but heavy with traffic in the high season; I had avoided it on my way East for that reason. In mid September the season out to be winding down and the roads less busy. After Croatia, Slovenia (also beautiful, I have heard) then the Alps (a welcome challenge) and a return to temperate, cycle-friendly West Europe. Perfect!
When we flew to the Turkish coast I had left my bike in Istanbul so this would be my first time putting my bike on a plane. The thought of feckless baggage handlers tossing about my whimpering steed like a sack of scaffold, absent mindedly setting it on a flight to Fiji, failing to transfer it to my connecting flight or taking issue with it’s size or weight and refusing to send it anywhere… I was filled with dread. But I found a box from a bike shop, took the bike to pieces and mummified the lot with a full twenty square metres of bubble wrap to ease my mind. A plump charge of €50 at the airport and all that was left to do was pray…