Monday, 22 August 2016

Riding 'Round Part IV: Scotland

My arrival into Edinburgh was timed impeccably well to coincide with Anna’s, who was north for two weeks visiting her parents who had just moved to Scotland from New Zealand. After a week alone on the road it was nice to have people I knew to talk to and see the city with. Anna’s family are incredibly beautiful and generous and gave me a couch and home cooked meals while I was there.

Sightseeing with a group makes for a slower pace (which is what I needed) so it was after lunch by the time we made our way up Arthur’s Seat to marvel at the views over the city. Anna used to live in Edinburgh, so had all the hot tips about where to go, including popping into a fudge shop which was incredibly generous with its samples, getting a deep fried mars bar (they originated in Edinburgh apparently) accompanied by an Irn Bru (basically an orange creaming soda) and trying Scottish tablet (hard crumbly fudge, yum). So basically Anna led me to all the Scottish junk food.

I was lucky enough to be in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival, so the streets, centred around the Royal Mile, were packed with performers and people giving out fliers, as well as the hordes of tourists come to see shows. I was also impressed by the large stadium that was erected right outside Edinburgh Castle on the hill for the Tattoo.

The next day Anna and family decided to go for a cycle while I wandered about the city on foot, and by wandering I mean napping in the park in the glorious sunshine. Wet met up at the museum to watch some contemporary duos as a part of the Festival before enjoying some reputable gelato. Anna and I were enjoying our pub meal so much that we lost track of time and has to sprint through the streets of Edinburgh to get to the show we had booked at Dance Base; The End. Following a cider at Edinburgh’s oldest pub (500 years this year, wow!) I opted to continue the night by seeing Briefs, a hilarious gay cabaret featuring my friend James Welsby. I did not expect it to be so good - it was exceptionally hilarious (and featured some very cute boys). I then partied on at a small local gay bar (after some failed venues, including one that appeared to be a disco for first year theatre students).

Morning brought the discovery of ‘butteries’, a kind of salty scone-croissant hybrid local to Scotland, and a farewell to the Noonans as I continued north. I stopped briefly in Pitlochry to eat a Scotch Egg at a particular inn I had read about but they didn’t have it at that time of day (continued story of my life) so pushed on all the way to Loch Ness. Thankfully I scouted out a campsite while it was still light because the pub messed up my order and it took so long by the time I left it was fully dark. But it ended up being the best location I have camped; right on the bank of Loch Ness in a little secluded and isolated pebbly beach, with the full moon shining down on the inky silver-bronze waters. I spent time sitting on a huge boulder by my tent just enjoying the beautiful light and silence (secretly hoping Nessie would appear).

I rode along the Loch and west towards the Isle of Skye, stopping every now and then for photos. Some of the scenery on that ride was the best of my trip to date and rivalled even Iceland. Just after driving over onto Skye I stopped for fish and chips. When you’re travelling by motorbike you automatically attract the attention of anyone else who rides, and so the guy serving me fish and chips started asking me about my trip and telling me about his rides. He gave me some great motorbike-specific suggestions for Skye; basically, just ride everywhere on every road.

I decided to pitch in a campsite smack bang in the middle of the island, giving me access to the facilities and also the a pub across the road. It was a race to get my tent up, as the rain started coming down just as I pulled in. I conceded that I wasn’t going to get much out of Skye that afternoon with the rain continuing so took my laptop to the pub. Skye is home to the Talisker Distillery and so I thought it only appropriate that I give whisky a go. Turns out I kinda like scotch, so #masc. I shared a table with a well-travelled older gentleman, who works in foreign aid, sharing stories for most of the night.

I left early in the morning to start with breakfast on a small, grassy cliff over the water, looking into the bay of Portree. My silence was disturbed by an ungainly German man who appeared behind me, slipped on the grass and slid under half his body was hanging over the edge. It was way too early to be dealing with that shit, as evidenced by the fact that I didn’t even move to help him. I mean I wasn’t advocating for his untimely demise on the rocks below, but tromp around like that and you get what’s coming to you.

The day was gorgeously warm and clear as I climbed up to the lookout over The Old Man of Storr, a picturesque rock formation. A couple in the pub the night before told me you could climb the fence and keep trekking further up the mountain for even more spectacular views, which I did. It was a relatively easy climb, but by the time I neared the top, with it’s knife edge peaks and sheer drops, my vertigo started kicking in. Commando crawling up to one edge, I swear I was saved from passing out by the distraction of shimmying into some bird poo. At the very top there was an unexpected plateau of grass, where I met a large group of teenage Czech backpackers, who had climbed from another direction (they’d actually been walking for two days from the north end of the island!). With their huge backpacks on, they stood way too close to the edge (like, heels against the drop off) while I took photos for them. I then helped them find the way down and we had some great chats.

I rode north for the afternoon for some more great landscapes and then stopped to find a quiet grassy spot for a nap in the Fairy Glen, these bizarrely formed grassy hillocks. The day was sunny and beautiful and I think this is where I got most of my unlikely Scottish tan. Exhausted I headed back to camp and the pub for some more cider and whiskey tasting, however their internet was down (and I wasn’t sitting in a pub for 3 hours with no phone service) so I headed back to Portree for a pub with better wifi to eat.

I had a bit of time the next morning before my ferry from the southern end of the island, so I just went riding to the southwest where fate brought me together with three heeland coos (highland cows), which I climbed a fence to go and look at and take photos with. It was honestly one of the highlights of my trip, they are so cute!!!

The Isle of Skye has really poor and patchy phone reception so it was late morning when I received a text saying my ferry had been moved 35 minutes earlier. I have never packed up a tent so fast and hightailed on the bike the other end of the island, just making the ferry! I did think it was quite unreasonable to send out texts in a place where people were unlikely to receive them …

After the short ferry ride I headed for Glen Coe, stopping a few times for photos of the fantastic scenery and more importantly, some great Harry Potter landmarks, such as the island where Dumbledore’s grave was and the famous Hogwarts Express viaduct. Glen Coe was very wet by the time I got there and I was even turned away by a campsite saying it was too wet anywhere to pitch tents, which was lucky anyway because I found a much better site that was right near the pub where I had previous plans to finally get my haggis, neeps and tatties. Glen Coe is one of the most famous glens of Scotland and deservedly so; the roads run through some stunning valleys alongside creeks and small waterfalls, backed by giant green mountains.

I spent the afternoon climbing the track to the Lost Valley, which was going really well until I took a wrong turn and ended up climbing for an hour up a gravel scree slope. There was a point where I spotted the actual track across the other side of the valley and could have turned back, but I went with the spirit of the adventure and the top looked just up ahead. I was deceived. It was a small miracle that I didn’t cause a genuine rockslide, or that I could even get back down into the valley at all. In the end I was rewarded with the giant valley all to myself (the others hikers probably leaving in fear of being crushed by the rocks from aforementioned landslide).

The pub was one of my favourites so far; dim and ambient with lots of wood and earthen tones, the kind that makes you feel you could be in a tavern from a fantasy series. The haggis was great too - very palatable, so I’m not sure what everyone’s fuss is about.

The next day brought more rain so I had a rather slow morning moving from the tent before powering on through to Glasgow and the promise of a dry room and bed. I hadn’t intended to stopover in Scotland’s biggest city, but it made a good halfway point between Glen Coe and the ferry to Ireland, so I thought why not. It was much nicer than I expected and very Melbourne in it’s offerings of dining options (I got the most indulgent poutine I’ve ever experienced, and by indulgent I mean absolutely loaded with gravy and cheese). I spent a few hours wandering around, including going to the top of the Necropolis for some great views.

My final morning in Scotland was the wettest of my whole trip and an absolutely cold and miserable 2.5 hour ride to the ferry port. In the end my day was only saved by a kind woman in a tour group who offered me her cake that she didn’t want. Bless that woman.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Riding 'Round Part III: England

Going back through London meant that I could take my bike back into the shop to resolve the leaking petrol issue, so after packing up and saying goodbye to my housemates once again, I took it in. It only took them a little tinkering to pronounce it fixed. However after visiting friends at work I came out to find it literally pissing out petrol. A few more hours in the shop and the outcome was one of two options; either the carb got enough fuel but leaked, or it didn’t and the engine didn’t start. In the end I just had to opt for the leaking option and to remember to turn the fuel off at the tank every time I stopped (spoiler alert, didn’t happen).

By the time I got to Cambridge it was getting dark … I didn’t mind because I was just going to find dinner and a place to sleep and explore the city the next day. It was going to be my first night camping and because I had limited space on the bike and like travelling light, I opted to go without a tent and just use a waterproof bivvy bag over my sleeping bag. After rejecting a few parks because they were too populated, I found a little reserve with trees; not too light, not too dark. I mean, I didn’t want to be readily seen by passers by, but I also didn’t want to stumble into a drug circle. Set myself up next to my bike and got some sleep under the stars.

Cut to the next day when the early morning light revealed what I had not seen in the dark … I had actually camped next to the giant iron gates to Trinity College, the most prestigious college at Cambridge University. And people were starting to arrive. Abort!

I spent the morning and early afternoon wandering around Cambridge, avidly avoiding paying for anything, which worked out well because I discovered you could see some of the colleges by just going in the entrance around the back. I was a little disappointed in Cambridge; I thought it would be similar to Oxford, which has an incredible amount of beautiful buildings and architecture. While Cambridge is an academic rival, it has nowhere near the grandeur of Oxford, so while the afternoon was hot and sunny, I jumped on my bike to head to Stratford-upon-Avon, which wasn’t really on my itinerary. Of course, half an hour in the sun disappeared and I even got hailed upon. England, everybody,

Arriving at Stratford I realised that I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing Shakespeare’s various houses, so I just looked up a campsite instead (not wanting another mishap and also, I needed a shower). I struck up a conversation with a Russian woman working in Sainsbury’s (while getting my daily fix of granola slices) who spoke about the places she had been in the UK including the Peak District, which was on my route. My brief conversation with her was actually the highlight of my day and it reminded me yet again how the best part of travelling for me is the people. On my way out I even struck up a conversation with a strange man who thought he recognised me (he thought I was a homeless person haha #whereisthatshower). He was the kind of guy that you would shrug off and keep walking past, but I decided to humour him. We had a great chat about living in the UK and it turns out he was from Azerbaijan. Who meets an Azerbaijani in Stratford!?

My campsite, accessible by a partly submerged road in which ducks were swimming, was run by an amazing elderly gentleman in a khaki suit and fedora. Ladies and gentlemen, living on a farm in the middle of nowhere is no inhibitor to dressing smart. I had another beautiful balmy night under the stars, this time accompanied by a family of chickens.

One thing I did take from Stratford was the beginning of my love affair with British pubs. I mean, they’re pretty much perfect. Warm, rustic and friendly, they offer great, CHEAP meals AND alcohol, but are more casual than a restaurant (that’s code for you can totally pick a table by a powerpoint and stay several hours with a cider and charge all your devices).

Taking the advice of my Russian acquaintance, I decided to head for the Peak District; nature was probably both more interesting and also practical for me at this point anyway. On my stopover in picturesque Bakewell (pub meal and cider for lunch of course) I also sampled the Bakewell pudding and got some Bakewell tarts for the road. The Peak District was pretty, but I thought it was really just glorified farm lands, which I felt guilty for. When I arrived at a cute little campsite it had already begun raining, so of course I spent the night in the pub across the road. Did I mention how much I love pubs? This one had wifi, so I even go to watch some of the men’s Olympic diving and gymnastics, which let’s be honest, are the only sports I’m interested in.

Hmm, still raining, time to get creative. I ended up solving my lack of tent situation by putting my umbrella up against the front wheel of my bike and putting my bags and head underneath to keep dry. It actually worked fantastically and I had a great and cosy night even with the rain and howling wind. Mr Bivvy did not turn out to be as waterproof as advertised however and so I decided it was time to invest in a tent.

I was really excited about getting to York, hailed as one of the top places in the UK to visit. Again I feel guilty for admitting I was a little underwhelmed. It had some nice architecture, including the city wall that you could walk on top of, but nowhere near the grandeur or ambience of cities like Bath and Oxford. I did stay in one of the best hostels of my life though, which had hair straighteners, a shower with pressure that could kill and a kitchen that put an Ikea showroom to shame. Meeting some people to hang out with didn’t turn out as expected as I was sharing my room with a 16 and 19 year old, #feelingold. Lacking on sights, I tried to give the food a go and made a to-eat list for York. The pie shop had closed down, the gelato was severely underwhelming and the brunch place had run out of their famous croque madams by 9:30am, so I think we can all agree that York was not the greatest success. On a more positive note I did enjoy a great Yorkshire pudding and got a tent for a very discounted price from probably one of the nicest retail assistants in the world.

On the way to Whitby I rode through the North Yorkshire Moors, which surprisingly I really loved. Barren of nearly all vegetation except for the purple heath, you can see for miles across the highlands and valleys. I think the weather really plays a role on my moods; it was dark and raining in the Peak District, whereas today it was bright and sunny. I setup my tent for the first time at a farm with relative success (found it half blown down from the wind later that night, so maybe not) and was quite pleased with the added bonus that I could leave all my stuff in it, which gave me more freedom to explore off the bike (I usually had to carry everything with me).

Whitby was everything I had been waiting for since leaving St Malo. Fucking. Stunning. The town is built on two hills that straddle the narrow bay and the the afternoon light was beautiful on the river and sea front. Decided in the moment to take a 40-minute boat ride out to sea after I heard them yelling out from the dock … best £3 I have ever spent! The two old guys driving the boat were hilarious and basically gave an unofficial stand up comedy routine for me and the one family on board. On the way back they just gave the steering wheel to the 8-year old and totally left him to steer us back in to port. It was amazing. The views of the coast and town were also fantastic.  After the largest serving of fish and chips I have had or will ever have, I climbed the opposite shore to cemetery and abbey, with great views over the town and then back along the main promenade to the beach. By this point the sun had set and the sky blazed with colour, which prompted another walk along the waterfront to get some great pics.

The next day I rode to Newcastle via Durham (where I had a PB&J burger - how is this not a thing everywhere) and the Angel of the North. While contemplating whether to get a hostel in Newcastle or camp further out, I rode aimlessly around the streets. After getting a feel for the locals and passing my fifth hens party I decided that in fact Newcastle wasn’t for me and I was unlikely to meet any … people of quality … there. Stayed at a campsite out west, where some Geordie families were actually playing great music from the sub in the boot of their Commodore. Pub, cider et al.

I wasn’t really sure what to do the following day. I had a lazy morning in tent writing my journal and so by lunch time it was too late to do the things I wanted to do on the way to Edinburgh, so I decided to stay another night and just poke around the area. I went and sat on a part of Hadrian’s Wall for quite a while and caught up on some emails and admin. It was the first time I had just stopped in a place with nothing particular to see or do and I really enjoyed it. If I had more time I would really have liked to do more of that … just camp in a place for a week or something.

I came across a road (which was actually running through someone’s property) that said ‘not suitable for motor vehicles’, but I had a motorbike so of course that didn’t count. It totally did, but the rocks and large puddles were all part of the fun. After stopping to photograph this ancient arch thing, I noticed that all the cows in the field were converging on me - it was calf season so they get protective. I didn’t want to take a gamble on whether they were coming over to be friendly or to trample me, so in a mad panic I tried to put all my gear back on and start the bike as they got closer and closer. As I took off (which has to be slowly on a gravel road) the cows started pursuing, but thankfully I reached the cattle grid in time and thwarted their homocidal plans.

I got an early night so I could start early the next day (early for me at this point being 9am). First stop was Alnwick Castle, which I was clearly only visiting because it’s where they filmed the flying lesson scenes (among others) from Harry Potter. Imagine my joy (you don’t have to imagine actually, look at the picture) when I discovered they offered broomstick flying lessons, which I undertook with the other 30 small children. The two instructors were also hilarious. I took the tour of the grounds and received ten points for Ravenclaw for naming the three balls used in Quidditch.

Next I called past The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, which I was unfortunately unable to get to because the causeway is underwater during high tide, but actually the highlight was just seeing the road disappearing into the ocean; very cool! Finally I drove through Berwick-upon-Tweed to see the viaduct bridge before making my way into Edinburgh to find Anna’s parent’s house (and Anna). Coming up next … SCOTLAND.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Riding 'Round Part II: France

Turns out PAF is in the Champagne region, so I decided to spend a day visiting Epernay and riding along the Cote des Blancs. Went on a tour of the Mercier cellars, mostly because they have a train down in the cellar and that sounded like fun. Of course it came with a complimentary glass on their champagne. Now I’m not condoning drink-driving, but my ride through the hills of champagne after glass of the stuff was incredible. We all know how I feel about wine.

The northern section of the Cote Des Blanc was great. The southern section is literally just flat fields of dirt and wheat, so I’m not really sure what’s going on there. I feel like the tourism board was paid off by the people in the southern towns. As one might expect, I had planned to finish my journey with a spectacular lunch of bread, cheese (I was on the Plateau of Brie!) and champagne however upon arriving in Sezanne, I was told by the tourism office that everything at 3pm on a Saturday was closed and if I wanted to eat, the only option I had was McDonalds. I have never eaten a cheeseburger with such anger and resentment.

I got into Paris around dinner time and checked into my only hostel in my whole European leg of the journey. I’ve been to Paris before so only decided to spend the night there, but actually 2012 me didn’t really appreciate food or people so I wish I could have stayed for a week. Last time I just did all the tourist things, but like London, Paris is so ridiculously magical and there are so, so many things to eat. I unexpectedly spent a few hours in a cafe with some incredible caramel and ginger crepes and dry cider with four Americans, just talking. We all agreed Trump was a disaster. I spent the night just walking past a bunch of landmarks like The Pompidou Centre and Notre Dame before climbing the Eiffel Tower for midnight, the last time I did it being during the day.

I should add also that even though I wasn’t having any driving issues with my bike anymore, since being fixed it had started leaking petrol at an alarming half tank a night. If my bike wasn’t so fuel efficient this might have been a disaster. It was only once back in the UK I realised I could have just turned the fuel nozzle off and stopped it leaking …

In the morning I popped up to Sacre Couer which is decidedly less ambient in the early hours of the day, with all the rubbish and smells of urine and a bizarre 1950’s car convention rallying at the bottom. It was a big riding day and I stopped at Chatres to see the cathedral, Chateau du Chambord and Chateau du Chenonceaux. It was at this point that I discovered that the novelty of the big old buildings was really wearing thin and I wasn’t really enjoying just riding somewhere, looking at the notable landmark and moving on. I’ve essentially been travelling since October so I think not only was the magic of travel not as fresh, but when you’ve seen a lot of world class sights, some things start to not measure up. What I was actually enjoying more were the people I was meeting (and of course the food). I stayed the night in Tours with a very sweet guy (his first time hosting!) who got us pizza to eat while watching the new Karate Kid (with French subtitles so I could learn some words).

I had to get to Carnac which was my biggest ride yet. So of course it was the day I had my first accident. I was turning off the motorway and pulling into a gravel bay to check the map and must have hit it too fast and the bike just came out from under me. I tore my glove up and grazed my leg (but didn’t find out until I took my pants off later that night) but other than that was fine. The bike was a bit scratched up, the gear peddle bent and the chain had come off. I got the chain back on but it was super loose, but thankfully the bike ran fine! I don’t know what I would have done if it had actually broken.

I didn’t really feel like stopping other than a very brief bite to eat in Vannes, so by the time I got there I had been five and a half hours on the motorway. Carnac was bigger than I expected so I decided to come back the next day to give it more time. My hosts were a fantastic couple called Arnaud and Jan and I had a blast with them. We spent the night non-stop talking and Jan was from Reims, so he busted out some champagne for us claiming the Bretons didn’t appreciate it enough. They gave some great French artists to listen to and I put them onto Montaigne.

Backtracking to Carnac I booked in for a tour of the monolithes, which is the only way you can walk amongst them. I usually don’t like tours and audio guides, but it was really interesting hearing about the history of the site (which was older than the pyramids). It would have been really easy to spend a lot of time there and see all the sites and the town itself, but I was short on time, having to get to my next destination, St. Malo!

This was probably my favourite part of the the trip so far. In St. Malo I met up with Nolwenn who took me on an extensive walking tour of the city (which is stunning!); along the waterfront, the ramparts and through the old city. She bought me Kouign Amann, a delicious buttery scroll thing local to Brittany and treated me to a local drink in the pub, refusing to let me pay. At home I met her three sisters, sister’s fiance and parents, all who were so welcoming and talkative. For dinner they made lobster (of which I had almost a whole one), fish, and vegetables and of course wine. If felt like a big family celebration dinner and I was absolutely blown away! In the morning Nolwenn and her sister Marie made me crepes for breakfast and gave me a packed lunch to take. Their mother urged me to stay another night and when I couldn’t she kissed me goodbye. The warmth and generosity was something I never thought to find through couch surfing.

I took the coastal road on the way to Mont Saint Michel and experienced the first rain of my trip (never fear, I have waterproof everything)! Except apparently for my jacket pocket. When I arrived I pulled my phone out to find it covered in water and seriously glitching. I quickly turned it off to prevent damage, dried it and then … it wouldn’t turn back on. Dead. I had a little bit of a freak out because my phone is the only way I can navigate while I’m travelling - on a motorbike you can’t use a map obviously and stopping to check anything involves parking and taking off gear. I also couldn’t contact anyone.

In true French fashion the lady in the information building was blunt and unhelpful. They had no wifi for me to use on my laptop to figure out what to do, and there were no other building or facilities in the area. Also, because of the terror alert in France all baggage storage in the country has been closed. She then advised me that it was forbidden to take bags into the monastery, so essentially (because I have everything with me and can’t just leave it on the bike), I couldn’t go in.

I think I just sat on a bench in the foyer staring into space for a good fifteen minutes.

When I tried to leave the carpark the machine wanted £5 for the less than half hour I was there! Deciding that this was basically criminal I hitched my bike over the little barrier to drive around the gate. Only part way through I realised that I was in sight of a parking attendant and had to gun it. That was when my chain (loose from the accident) decided to come off again, rendering my get away vehicle defunct. Cut to me sitting on my bike and walking it out of the carpark as quick as I could, imagining I was being pursued (I was not).

Rallying, I pulled into the next town, found wifi and used my laptop to find friends for moral support. I then tried to memorise the route to my next destination (apparently with mixed success). Every fifteen minutes or so I had to stop, get my laptop out and try and figure out where on the map I was and how many inevitable wrong turns I had taken. Miraculously I arrived at the American Cemetery in Normandy at 5:55pm, noting that it closed at 6pm. Whhyyyyyy. I basically ran through the grounds before they kicked everyone at 6:30 taking photos (on my iPad, how demeaning), then having an hour to meet my next host in Caen at the designated place which I couldn’t be late for (because, no phone). I got there. Praise be.

Quentin was one of the coolest guys I have met. He also rode motorbikes (a 1000cc, just a little better than mine :P), was a diver and had a fucking backpack plane (a backpack with a propeller and parachute; you basically go to a field and run to take off and then fly yourself up to 2km high). I didn’t know this existed and now that I do, I want! He took me for a ride on his bike and got up to 230km/h on the highway. I felt like I was travelling through time in a wormhole. It was terrifying and incredible. As an extra bonus he fixed up my bike and tightened the chain!

My final day in France was simply a ride to Dieppe and get the ferry to Newhaven in England, but what made it notable was that my phone turned back on! The lock button didn’t work and the up volume was stuck on (making for an uncomfortably loud level of navigation) but I wasn’t about to be picky.

I spent four days of much needed chill out with friends in and around London, which only made me realise so much more how much I think of London as home, how much I have loved my life here and the incredible amount of beautiful people that have become such an important part of my everyday life. I almost didn’t want to leave on the next part of my travel; I could have happily stayed in London for a month but weirdly it was cheaper to leave than to stay!

Monday, 1 August 2016

Riding 'Round Part I: Belgium, Cologne & Luxembourg

I'm not sure anymore where the initial idea to get a motorbike and license came from, or to take a trip through Europe and the UK. I really loved the small motorbike trips I took in South East Asia so I'm sure that had something to do with it. I got my CBT (basically a learners) in London in April and bought my Honda CG125 the following week. Most people I know will be aware that only ten days later that bike was stolen from my house, but thankfully many people came to my aid and donated funds towards a second bike, my Yamaha YBR125. Having a bike also saved me a buttload of money in London, as I used it to get to work instead of the tube as well as taking a few other trips around the south of the country.

Wanting to do this trip in summer was part of the reason I wrapped things up in London in June.

My ride didn’t get off to a good start. My carburettor had been having some problems (and by some problems I mean it either the bike wouldn’t start or it would die while I was doing 100km/h on the highway) and so while I was in Sweden it was being fixed at the shop. It was only when I was about to leave for the ferry at Dover that I realised the problems were even worse and it was basically unrideable. Managed to basically bunny hop it to the shop where they finally fixed it up, but by then I had missed my ferry.

Worked out well because then I got to see Ab Fab that night instead. They even cocked up the tickets so they were accidentally free. Karma works people.

Some people might be deterred from taking a notoriously unreliable bike on a trip through continental Europe but my sheer optimism, combined with the fact that I didn’t really have any other option spurred me forward!

Next day, take two. I had a moment while waiting to board the ferry while next to a bunch of bikers about to start the Mongol Rally (this has moved to number one on my bucket list) where for the first time I thought, what the fuck am I doing? I can barely ride this bike and I don’t really know where I am going. But what could go wrong?

I’ll tell you what. About an hour in, on the highway in the middle of Belgium my bike just died. It had done this before but I thought it was fixed. I walked that thing SEVEN KILOMETRES along the side of the road to a service station. It was then it finally dawned on me what the problem was … my petrol gauge was faulty. Every time my bike had been dying I had run out of petrol, even though it still said half a tank. Not so bad, just meant I had to keep it above half!

I’ve learned a lot about my personality on this trip. When something bad like this happens I despair and get frustrated for about ten minutes, and then it mysteriously dissipates and my overwhelmingly strong optimism kicks in. I actually enjoyed my walk along the highway; it was sunny, the scenery was gorgeous and it gave me time to think. And I also thought, well what else can do I? Worrying is wasted energy. I was even prepared to just sleep on the side of the road on the grass.

Several hours late I rode into Brussels to meet up with the couple I was staying with, who I found on Couch surfing is honestly one of the greatest things I have ever done, but more about that later. Arnaud and Melanie were an awesome and super friendly couple who had a bed, food and wifi prepared for me and we got on like zombies on live flesh.

I spent one day exploring Brussels, seeing Atomium, Grand Place, the underwhelming Mannekin Pis, eating waffles and walking around with purpose (I don’t do aimlessly). I spent the evening with Arnaud and Melanie with one of the best kebabs I’ve eaten, talking about travelling and sharing Australian and French music (the only thing Belgium having produced being Stromae).

The next day I had planned to ride to Luxembourg City but decided literally as I was getting on my bike that I would detour to Cologne instead. Being on a bike I can’t look at my phone or maps so I rely on GPS through my headphones. But that needs data and I pay by the day so I try to avoid when I can and just memorise the map and use signs. After a couple of wrong turns I was on the right motorway. An hour later my stomach dropped out of my ass as I crossed the border into The Netherlands, which is distinctly in the opposite direction to where I was meant to be travelling.

My train of thought: Oh. Oh God. I’ve driven the wrong way. I’m almost at the fucking Hague. What am I going to do … … … you know what, this isn’t so bad. I could keep riding to Denmark instead. Yeah I’m going to do that.

My resilience and ability to adapt surprises even me. Turns out my geography is below par because there’s actually a tiny bit of The Netherlands that juts down between Belgium and Germany and I was just crossing that. I was a little disappointed to be honest.

I was still getting used to long rides so by the time I got to Cologne I thought my arms would never stop vibrating. Spent a grand total of two hours walking around the centre and eating currywurst, which gave me such epic Berlin flashbacks. Fuck I miss that place. Turns out all the hot men live in Cologne too. Feel like I should have stayed and found a boyfriend or something. Anyway I saw the big cathedral, that was big.

Three more hours or so and my fourth country for the day, I got to Luxembourg City, which is really small. Somehow that didn’t stop me getting so lost taking wrong turn after wrong turn, looping back and forth trying to get to the centre. At one point I remember just screaming and swearing as loud as I could, my pride saved by the sound of the engine. I think being alone on the bike for so long does weird things to you.

Stayed with a cool local named Askender, who took me for dinner over two nights and gave me some great suggestions about what to see in Luxembourg. I’d planned to just stay in the city, but it was such a glorious summer day that I took the bike out to the countryside. Firstly to the glorious town of Vianden where I spent time in the pool that overlooks the chateau on the adjacent hill, the ruins of Brandenburg Castle, tiny but pretty Esch-sur-Sûre and then walking along the banks of the lake where everyone was holidaying.

Accidentally ended up on some tollway in France that took me way past where I wanted to go, more swearing etc etc. Spent some more time at PAF (a monastery converted into an artist residency in St Erme), only nine days this time. Was devastated to find the supermarket was being refurbished and they didn’t sell the glorious ham that I experienced in 2012. Didn’t really connect with any of the writers or philosophers in residence so most of my time was spent in solitude. #bliss

To be continued ...