London to Auckland – stage two. The story of the recent adventures of one of our volunteers.
East and Southern Europe – June 2018 – November 2018 –The Stabilisers Were Off
Whilst in Northern Europe and Scandinavia we were very much still in our comfort zone. We’d been to many of these countries before and nearly everyone spoke English. When we arrived in Gdansk, Poland, this all changed. Though much of what we were to see in Eastern Europe was still familiar, the further south and east we went the more foreign it became! Many people back in the UK questioned whether we should cycle through Eastern Europe as the ‘people there are all thieves and bandits’ and ‘your bikes will definitely get stolen’. We questioned it ourselves at the start, but as it turned out we had a fantastic time and the people we met were great. It just goes to show that you should experience places yourself so that you can make up your own mind rather than just listening to other people who often have no real first-hand experience of actually being there. Obviously there are bad apples in every society and we took the same precautions we would have done if we’d been in London – or anywhere else in the UK for that matter.
So, we meandered our way through Poland, Czech Republic, Austria and Slovakia…
Beautiful Quiet Roads in Central Slovakia
We found it amazing that when crossing a border we would pass through a sort of invisible barrier where everything that we’d got used to in one country was then taken away and a new set of weirdness was waiting for us on the other side! Each country is so unique and within just a few kilometres we would suddenly realise that things were very different. We would then go through a 48-hour period of uncertainty until we adjusted to our new environment. And as Europeans we didn’t have to worry about visas to cross borders at this stage of our trip.
The Polish Border
Rather than just camping we really wanted to stay with people along our journey so that we could better understand their culture and way of life and there are a couple of communities online that facilitate this sort of thing. Specifically for cyclists there is www.warmshowers.org, and for more general travellers there is www.couchsurfing.com. Both of which are regular people offering accommodation, a warm shower, a meal or anything else to help a stranger in their area. Our first experience of this fantastic hospitality was in Slovakia, where we had an amazing 3 days with Jan, Evit and their two boys who live in Banska Bystrica, a small town in the centre of the country. They showed us a level of kindness and hospitality that we’d never experienced from absolute strangers before – this, as it turns out, became the theme of all the people we stayed with during our journey.
For a very brief few days we joined the throngs of cyclists that peddle along the side of the Danube River towards Vienna – mostly day-trippers on electric-assist bikes with a few more serious cyclists in between. There are literally hundreds of cyclists around to the point where there were actually traffic jams in places!