After a day’s rest at a campsite in Eure-Et Siene, France I left feeling more energised than I had in the past couple of days. As I left I stopped at the nearby Lidl to stock up on supplies and then continued on towards my next evening’s accommodation near Bresles. Once I reached this campsite however I realised how lucky I had been the previous few nights. At Eure-Et Siene I had paid €6 for 2 days camping, which was a bargain compared to Bresles, where they had just charged me €14.50 for one night! This is what happens when you don’t plan ahead and just select the nearest campsite on your GPS device. I’m never doing that again! Once I paid I decided to make good use of their facilities, giving my clothes a (much needed) wash and enjoying a nice long shower! After this tiredness hit me so I headed back to my tent for some much needed sleep.
The following morning I was up and on the road by 8:30am and had cycled 15 miles by 10:00am, which put me in a really positive mood for the day. The weather was also dry and, after stopping at Lidl (again), I ended up riding 60 miles by mid-afternoon and stopping at a wild camping spot. Arriving this early left me with plenty of time to pitch my tent, cook my evening meal, tinker with the bike and also try and dry out some of my clothes before going to bed. In my mind, however, the next day couldn’t arrive any quicker as I was due to stay with my first ‘Warm showers’ hosts Bruno and Michele and (hopefully) enjoy some good company!
I left my makeshift campsite early the next morning and soon realised I was much closer to the 'Warm Showers' hosts than previously thought (I was only 20 miles away!) Not having a phone I decided to turn up and hope they were in, but not before grabbing myself a traditional French meal (La Baguette!). I cranked the pedals towards the address they’d given me and slowly pulled up to the gate. Michelle opened the gate and signalled for Bruno, who both gave me a warm welcome. I apologised for not being able to get into immediate contact and they told me to enjoy a warm shower and get changed. ‘Thank god’ I thought, and afterward I began to feel human again! I had a brief run down of the washer and, making the most of it, I whacked all of my cycle gear in. I then got my tent and sleeping equipment and dried them on the washing line. After this I sat down with my hosts and we had a lovely home cooked lunch of spinach, potato fritters and rice. It was really good food and made a change from my camp stove cooking. I thought we’d finished, but then they came out with more food! For dessert they treated me to apple compote with whipped cream and a yoghurt. I decided I definitely needed the calories and ate like there was no tomorrow!! Bruno later told me that most of what we had eaten had been grown in their own garden.
*French hosts Bruno and Evelyn
Once full I excused myself and then, taking advance of the free Wi-Fi, went online to catch up with friends and family. Once I had done this Bruno drove me to Laon and showed me around. Laon had one cobbled street through it with shops on either side, but the main feature was this huge Church. We walked back to the car but not before Bruno bought me a beer in one of the bistros and I would be lying if I said it didn’t go to my head. Dinner was pancakes, with more apple compote and cream, and once full up (which wasn’t hard considering the feast Bruno and Michelle had laid on since I’d arrived) I went to bed, but not before making sure my mass of electrical crap was charging!
The following day I said goodbye to my magnificent hosts and left about 10:00am, but soon I was feeling negative with the boring rural roads and run down buildings. I kept thinking that I had to get a map. My original plan was to use the GPS to cover the long distance between the start of my journey and the Danube River. Once there I’d be sorted as I would just need to follow the river for a lot of the way. Things weren’t as simple as I had hoped however, as it was taking a long time to get out of France!
My thoughts moved to Belgium, hoping for a more scenic route than the one I had taken so far. The next day I aimed to get to Charleville-Mezieres for a much needed food stock resupply, and also to sort my (now blocked) STA cashcard! At this point I was feeling homesick but I was sure that it would pass with time.
That night I camped between Jandun and Barbe-En-Croc off the road in a wood, and the following morning I took the D3 and D5 roads, which took me on to a great cycle track along the La Meuse River. It wasn't long however before I had to go back up some bloody annoying track which became slimy and subsequently made me drop my bike and crack my right knee! I pushed on after swearing at myself and realised I missed a photo opportunity for a picture with the Belgium sign whilst following the N83 to Florenville.
I cycled on and caught sight of a tourist office and decided to ask if they knew of any payphones that took coins. The lady immediately recommended I buy a sim card so, after taking delivery of a handful of brochures which immediately went in the bin, I walked into a Carrefour and bought myself a sim card for €15, as well as a much needed Coke and Snickers. I sat down by the window and somehow managed to press the wrong button to set the card to English, which led to me munching down the chocolate bar and drinking my fizzy drink and pedalling off in frustration.
*Sunrise in the Luxembourg countryside
I made good mileage the next day, cycling through Luxembourg (again missed the sign!), and enjoyed a pleasant day biking on nice roads leading to the Mosel River. I ended my days riding by going into a Carrefour (again!) and immediately downed a much needed bottle of Lipton’s Iced Tea and then headed back to where I saw a sign for a campsite. When I arrived it turned out to be closed so I followed a dog walker’s track for a short distance and setup camp on top of a small hill. I munched on my French baguette dinner (notice a pattern here?) and settled down for the evening.
The next day I pedalled 25 miles to Saarlouis Germany where I stayed last minute with my second 'Warm Showers' hosts, Hans and Evelyn. Earlier that day I had to fix my first puncture and then headed to a nearby McDonalds to use their Wi-Fi. It was painfully slow and I was panicking because I was struggling to find a somewhere to sleep that night. Luckily I came across Hans and Evelyn who lived not far away. I quickly cycled the 5 miles along the best cycle routes so far and knocked on their door. Hans greeted me and said that I could put my bike in the garage. He then said, “We’re off out so go and have a shower and change. Then you’ll relax.” I had only just met them and they were happy for me to stay unattended in their home! Not one for turning down such luxuries these days I did as I was told and felt immediately better. I put my electrical items on charge and stared at a map of Germany I had bought in a petrol station not long before. I then spent some time sorting out a more organised route.
*German host Hans
When Evelyn and Hans returned we chatted about my trip and about theirs, where they had cycled to just north of Lithuania. I asked for advice on packing and what to leave out and it got me thinking about what I needed to get rid of as the weight I was carrying on my bike is ridiculous. I finally managed to sort out my new German sim card and my STA cash card and I then sat down to dinner with my new hosts. Tonight’s meal consisted of potatoes, seasoned salad and sour cream which, once again, was a nice change from my camp stove meals. I woke the next day and ate a breakfast of bread and apricot marmalade. Hans informed me all fruit in jars is called marmalade and I couldn’t get enough of it! I downed my coffee and when Hans left I sat down with the computer to organise lodgings for the route ahead. I had already learnt very quickly on this trip that it paid to be more organised!
When Hans returned he gave me a map and showed me a route plotted on Google Maps which went as far as Donaueshingan, which was where I could pick up the Danube. This was very helpful and I really appreciated Hans advice.I then dashed off to the shops for some supplies before I left and when I returned Hans showed me a ring binder full of all the people he’s hosted through 'Warm Showers' since April. It contained pictures of many different people, from different cultures, on different bikes, going to many different places. He poured me another coffee and after drinking it loaded up my bike (which never gets any lighter) and headed towards the River Saar, which I cycled alongside for nearly 2 hours, covering 20 miles. I hope this was a taste of what the Danube was going to be like. Tomorrow is a new day!
I was on the road again early the next day, leaving camp at 7:30 and cycling along the chilly and very misty River Saar. I came off around Sarragumines (as instructed by Hans) but stopped temporarily at McDonalds. No matter what country you go to you will always find a McDonalds! I bought a bacon and egg muffin and 2 coffees, mainly to check my card worked but also so I could use the Wi-Fi. While I ate I looked for hosts in Passau as I’d heard it was a great stop before heading into Austria. After my meal I cycled to Bitche which, as the name suggested, was a bitch. Hills galore and I didn’t take the ring road as I should have so I ended up cycling down into the valley and back out again. Still, I enjoyed the downhill at least! I rode on through Nedersteinbach, towards Wisssenbourg, which was now on nice and flat roads. I pulled over shortly after 4:00pm not far from Kehl, carried all my bags up a hill away from the road along with the bicycle and promptly tried to dry and air things out. I then put the stove on, which took me 3 attempts and made myself a coffee and a boil in the bag meal for dinner. Less than half an hour after dinner I was surrounded by mist. I got inside the tent and decided to write my diary while the day’s events were fresh in my mind.
*Misty morning following the River Saar
The following morning while the mist hung low around my campsite I loaded up my bike and made my way towards Kehl. I knew I had to get a shuffle on today as I had to cover over 85 miles and go up through the Black Mountains. I thought I was making good time when at 1:00pm I’d covered 45 miles. I didn’t want to waste any time with stops but also knew the necessity for energy so reluctantly pulled over at a services and bought a Coke, water and slice of pizza. Ploughing on through the now sunny weather I removed my sweaty jacket for the first time since my trip had begun and strapped it to the back of the bike. I still had 40 miles and 2484 feet to cycle and climb before the end of the day. If I hadn't planned the route correctly I would have ended up camped somewhere that night, but I was still cycling through misty villages towards my destination in the dark, using my bicycle light for the first time. I’d been thinking of a cooked meal and hot drink for some time now and had been going through my sweets like there was no tomorrow. I arrived at my next host home (Daniel and Marianne) at 7:30pm, which was 2 ½ hours later than I had planned. They didn’t seem to mind however and, after an awesome hotel style shower and plenty of coffee, I sat down with Daniel and Marianne for some Italian pizza!!
As I am writing this I will be spending a second night here and leaving tomorrow for the remaining 460 mile journey to Vienna. Once in Vienna I hope to see some family and explore the city. Today I spent the day walking around Donaueshingan, sightseeing and taking photos and also stocking up on more food supplies. I’m also using this down time to dry my tent and wash my clothes. I want to get as prepared as possible before heading off tomorrow because I probably won’t be stopping before Vienna and this will be the last time I stay with a host family before arriving there.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for future updates!