10,350 miles / 16,656 Km
This trip around Europe, is the first stage of my long term goal, to travel around the world. I started my journey on Sunday the 10th July from Sheffield and headed south to London. I was joined for part of this journey by my Dad, with my little brother on the back, and a friend from work, we travelled south on country roads until we arrived at the M1. I stayed in London for a couple of days, visiting an old friend and going to see some of London’s tourist attractions. After spending some time exploring Reagents Park looking for Geocaches I continued on to Covent Garden, Camden Loch, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. When I was ready to leave London I took the M25 and then the M2 down to Dover to take the ferry across the channel to France.
When the ferry arrived in France it was raining, I took the A16 south to Paris, stopping on the way to check my brakes and adjust my waterproofs because I was still getting very wet. Driving in Paris was horrible, lots of one-way roads and seemingly constant traffic jams. Once I had found a place to park the bike, and started exploring the city on foot, it was a lot more enjoyable. I visited Notre Dame, The Eiffel Tower and took a walk along the side of the river Seine. I hadn’t booked a hostel so I had to travel around asking for a room, I ended up on the outskirts of the city, in a small B&B. The next morning I went back into the centre, to visit the grave of Jim Morrison. I had visited Paris before so it was nice to see some of the places again, but it was the first time I had visited Jim Morrison’s grave. After leaving the cemetery I took the A1 and the A2, heading north, up to the border with Belgium.
I crossed the Belgian border in the evening and it was still raining, I decided to set up my first camp. After driving a few miles over the border I exited the motorway and headed into some fields to sleep for the night. The next morning, I continued along the E429 to Brussels, drove around for a while, then took the A12 to Antwerp. After seeing a little of the city I headed north on the E19 into Holland.
I was travelling north towards Rotterdam when the weather was so bad that it forced me to stop and set up camp in the rest area of a petrol station. This seemed like a safe place, but I was robbed in the early hours of the morning (Click to read original Blog post). After I had finished reporting the theft to the police I continued north on the A4, arriving in Amsterdam early in the morning, before any of the hostels were actually open. I drove around and found the hostel which is linked to YHA (or HI Hostel as its called in Europe), it was too early to check in but they let my leave my luggage in their lockers. I walked through the city and headed to the library, logged on to the net and changed all my passwords, as a precaution due to the theft of my laptop. When it was late enough to check in to the hostel, I went back, checked in and took a warm shower before heading out for drinks. Amsterdam is one of my favourite cities, it has a great atmosphere and an awesome night life, I soon met some cool people and cheered myself up. I stayed in Amsterdam for a couple of days and replaced my stolen items with smaller, cheaper alternatives, then left the city, heading east along the A1 to the border with Germany.
I had never had much of an interest in visiting Germany so my route took me almost directly to Berlin, in almost a straight line, stopping overnight to camp just south of Hannover to break up the long journey. It was my first night camping since the theft, so I made sure I picked a safe location and everything was fine. The next day I continued along the E30 towards Berlin. I didn’t stay in the city for long, just went to visit the Berlin Wall and a few other tourist attractions before heading south on the E36 and E55 to Dresden, then continued on the E55 towards the border with the Czech Republic, stopping again before the border, to set up camp for the night. Germany turned out to be really nice, great roads, beautiful countryside and lively cities. I loved riding on the Autobahn, wide lanes, gentle curves and high speeds.
As I crossed the border into the Czech Republic I headed straight to Prague. The roads were still good, like in Germany, but the views were much better, small villages, hills and lakes. I stayed in a hostel in the city centre and spent the evening walking around visiting the city’s tourist attractions, mainly the Charles Bridge. On my way back through the city, towards the hostel, I did some Geocaching, my first time outside the UK. The next morning I left Prague, taking the motorway 1 which took me the length of the country, through Brno and Ostrava, before crossing the border with Poland.
I didn’t spend much time exploring in Poland, I mainly went there because I wanted to visit Auchwitz. It took me some time to find my way to the museum as the lack of road signs made it difficult to know where I was going. When I finally got there, I spent the night camping in the museum car park, luckily the one armed attendant let me park and camp for free. I spent the next day visiting the museum, you can actually look around for free if you arrive early in the morning, but I opted for a guided tour. The museum has a strange atmosphere to it, I would definitely recommend that people visit at some point. Once we had looked around both of the camps, I headed towards Krakow, drove around for a while, then headed south to the border with Slovakia. The weather had been good since Amsterdam, but as I approached the mountains on the border it started to rain again.
The road into Slovakia took me through the mountains, I was now cold and wet so I decided that I would stay in a hotel. I managed to find a beautiful hotel, which looked like a log cabin, and checked in. On the ground floor was a restaurant, I ate there and then sat drinking beer in front of a log fire. After a good nights sleep, I set off from the hotel and headed to Zilina and took the D1 south to Bratislava. While driving along this road I had my first petrol scare, I passed through the city with a small amount of petrol in the tank, thinking that there would be lots of petrol stations on the motorway. After the first four or five rest stops didn’t have petrol stations I started to get a little worried, so I stopped at the next rest stop to ask how far the next station was. They said it was around forty Km away, I looked at my petrol gauge and didn’t think I’d make it, luckily I did, so I filled up my extra petrol can for the first time. Once I arrived in Bratislava, I really enjoyed the city and met some really cool people in the hostel and bars, Bratislava remains one of my favourite cities. After spending a few days in the city I headed the short distance to cross over the border into Austria.
My visit to Austria was the shortest time I spent in any country during the whole Europe trip. I literally went over the border just to visit Vienna for the afternoon and then headed south to cross the border into Hungary. However, the road I took to get to the city was really nice, I had decided against taking the motorway and instead took a smaller road along the north side of the river. I drove around the city for a while, admiring the sights, then headed to Hungary.
Once I had crossed into Hungary I headed through the hills to Lake Balaton and found a camp site on the bank of the lake. The journey to the lake was really nice, if a little surreal, the road took me through lots of small villages and the sunlight had a strange quality to it, making everything look pale, that coupled with the silence made it quite interesting. After spending a night at the lake I drove to Budapest, I really enjoyed the few days I spent in the city, the night life in the ruin bars is awesome. I was staying in a really cool hostel in the centre of the city, really close to all the tourist attractions and bars. I met some really cool people who were also travelling around Europe, and we had some long nights in the ruin bars together. Budapest is definitely one of my favourite cities. After I left Budapest I headed north through the national park and camped just outside Debrecen before I headed to the border with Romania. It was during my night here that I met a German couple who were travelling on motorbikes, they were just heading home after a couple of weeks in Romania. We ate together and drank some beer while they told me good roads to take and warned me about some of the possible dangers, including the gypsies, wild dogs, wolves and bears. They also pointed out that I may have problems entering the country as I was missing most of my documents, after the theft. I left the next morning with many more worries than I had the previous night.
Looking back on this trip I can see that Romania was the real start to my journey. My time there made me slow down and really explore, rather than just driving quickly through like I had been up to this point. My first day in Romania I followed a route plan that I had agreed with the German couple. I headed to Oradea and took the 76 south, then turned on to the 75 which took me up into the mountains. I found a camp site and set up for the night, while I was there I met two professors from Bucharest University, we shared some food and drink and I asked them for advice about where to visit. The first place they said was Sighisoara, a small medieval village. The next morning I set off along the 14a and 14 to Sighisoara, luckily I had arrived during a festival, so there were lots of cool hippy people, music and drinking. I met a group of people here who soon became my friends, and I spent the rest of my three week stay in Romania, socialising with them.
After spending the weekend camping in Sighisoara, I headed to another town which was recommended by the professors, Sibiu. I didn’t enjoy this city so much, although it was quite beautiful in places, it just seemed to lack the right atmosphere for me. After a couple of days in Sibiu, I headed south to the Transfagarasan, the second highest road in Romania. The road winds up and over the mountains, it was really cool to drive through the clouds on one side of the mountain and then find beautifully clear skies, mountains and valleys on the other side. I then headed back through the mountains near Bran Castle, the inspiration for the Dracula stories, and went to Brasov to visit the friends I had made in Sighisoara. I stayed in Brasov for a couple of weeks, taking trips on the motorbike to visit the surrounding areas. One of these trips took me back into the Fagaras Mountains for a few days of hiking and camping. Brasov is a really great place to visit, full of history, natural beauty and friendly people. I think my time there was also helped by the fact I had a group of friends to show me around and spend time with.
From Brasov I headed south to Bucharest, but instead of taking the main road I took a route through the mountains, where I was stopped by the police and almost had my license confiscated. Luckily after talking to them for around 20-30 minutes they decided to let me go (Click to read original Blog post). Bucharest was a strange city, some areas felt like a modern capital city, then you could turn a corner and find yourself on a street which was very run down with wild dogs roaming the street. I spent a couple of days there before I headed east to the coast of the Black Sea. I spent a few days in a town called Eforie Nord, where one of my Romanian friends was attending a student camp. We soon got tired of this town as it was too mainstream, so we headed south towards the border with Bulgaria. Just before the border there is a village called Vama Veche, this village attracts all sorts of cool and crazy people, hippies, punks, bikers and nudists, all camping on the beach and partying. We stayed there living on the beach for a week, luckily there were some other people there who we had met in Sighisoara, so we had a great time there. After about a week of living on the beach I headed south over the border into Bulgaria.
As I drove over the border into Bulgaria I had a feeling like I was leaving home, I had experienced some really good times with my Romanian friends and I felt bad about leaving them behind, but at the same time I was excited about the road ahead. I stayed my first night in a hostel where I met some German girls who had been using Couch Surfing. I had created an account before leaving the UK but never organised a host, they advised me to give it a try so I decided that I would arrange some for my time in Greece. The hostel was in a popular tourist area just outside a city called Varna, it was a nice place but there were too many tourists, so I was glad that I had done some research online and found out about Wild Beaches. Basically, beautiful beaches with no hotels, just people camping. I had found one called Irakli, somewhere on the coast between Varna and Burgas. This beach is one of the coolest places I have camped in Europe, luckily I bumped into a group of German guys who were travelling in a VW van and we camped together. The beach was beautiful and the water was clear and warm, we spent a few days there sunbathing and swimming during the days, and playing guitar next to the camp fire at night. After leaving Irakli, I headed south to try to cross into Turkey, but I was refused entry for the motorbike due to some missing documents, from the theft, so I followed the border around and headed into Greece.
One of the first things I noticed about Greece was the huge price difference compared to the last six or seven countries I had travelled through. Suddenly a beer had jumped in price from less than one euro for half a litre, to between three and five euros for a third of a litre. Accommodation also jumped from around ten euros to around thirty-five or forty euros. After learning this I decided that I would camp all on the beaches or use couch surfing while I travelled through the country. Sleeping on the beaches was a great decision, it really helped me to find small coastal roads and hidden beaches and really beautiful spots along the coast with ancient ruins. My first experience with Couch Surfing was in a city called Thessaloniki, I stayed with a really friendly girl who showed me around the city and took me for a night out with her friends. I used Couch Surfing in Volos and Athens during my stay in Greece, all of them were great experiences. In Volos I stayed with a group of students who were hosting another couch surfer from Argentina, one of the evenings we hiked up the mountain behind the city, to a small village, to eat a meal and have a few drinks before hiking back down again. The people I met in Greece were awesome, they seemed so open and friendly I really enjoyed meeting them (Click to read original Blog post).
From Volos I headed south to Athens. I used couch surfing for the first two nights, then stayed in a hostel for another two. My couch surfing host took me to a beach, east of Athens, where kite surfers meet. I spent the day sat in a bar on the beach, drinking beer and reading while my host did some kite surfing. Over the few days I spent in the hostel, I went to visit the tourist attractions, which was interesting, but what I enjoyed more was using another feature of the Couch Surfing website, basically meeting other travellers and local people for a drink and a walk around the city. Using Couch Surfing gives you a totally different experience compared to staying in hostels, you get to meet local people who give you more of an insiders view on the city. It is a great way to make new friends around the world and swap travelling stories. From Athens I headed west to Patra to catch a ferry, but first I spent a night camping just outside town. This is where I met another German couple who were travelling by motorbike, they had a lot of experience as they had previously spent a lot of time in Africa and working for Green Peace. We exchanged some stories before we headed to the ferry port and went our separate ways. This is when I took the over night ferry and headed into Italy.
The ferry arrived in Bari at around 8am, I followed the coast north as far as Andria, before taking the motorway across to Napoli on the West coast. I stayed in Napoli for around a week, sleeping in a hostel and exploring the city. Using one of the days to travel south to Pompeii, planning to camp there, but when camping was more expensive than the hostel in Napoli, I decided to go back to the hostel. I also met a couple of Spanish people, cousins, who were travelling together around Italy. We spent a day exploring Napoli together and climbed up to St Elmo Castle to take pictures looking down over the city. Although I had heard lots of negative stories about Napoli being dangerous, I didn’t notice anything negative while I was there, it was a really nice place to spend some time. From Napoli I headed north along the west coast to arrive in Rome.
From Napoli I headed north along the coastal roads, avoiding motorways and their charges. This actually made for a really beautiful ride, passing through small coastal towns and along roads with awesome views down over beaches. I stayed in Rome for a few days, in the cheapest hostel I could find, just up the road from the Colosseum. Rome was a little different to what I had expected, the streets were busy with locals and tourists and the tourist attractions are scattered around the city streets. They aren’t overly spread out, so it is possible to see most things with a couple of afternoon walks. I visited the Colosseum and the Vatican as well as the many other fountains, statues and old buildings around the city.
From Rome I headed north to Pisa, this was the start of my two weeks travelling around northern Italy. There isn’t much to see in Pisa, just the tower and cathedral, you can see it all in one day. From Pisa I headed to Bologna and stayed in a cheap hostel on the edge of the ring-road, I didn’t explore much because I knew I would return in a week or so. The next stop was Parma, I stayed with my first Italian couch surfing host. In the evenings we drank beer and ate in the aperritivos in the city centre. My next stop was Padova, a city close to Venice, where I stayed with a young couple who had only just started couch surfing, I was their first surfer. They were really friendly and we went out into the city for a walk and a meal. The following day I caught the train into Venice for the afternoon, possibly the most beautiful city I have ever visited. An afternoon was enough because I knew I was coming back again. The next city was Verona, setting of Romeo and Juliet, to stay with another couch surfing host. We rode our motorbikes out to Lake Garda, as well as having a meal in Verona and walking around in the evening to get a feel of the city. Then I spent a week visiting Bologna, Venice, Verona, Lake Garda, Pisa ending with a couple of days in Firenze. After stopping off in Verona again, to collect some of my luggage and change the coolant in the bike, I headed into the Alps in the north west of Italy. I stayed with my final Italian couch surfing host in a city called Aosta.
I took a mountain road north out of Aosta hoping to drive over a high mountain road. Unfortunately the road was closed, so I had to take the boring tunnel. My visit to Switzerland was short, only a couple of days, but I really enjoyed the scenery of the mountains, even though the weather was colder than I had experienced over the past couple of months. I took a ride through a valley and had planned to go up to a village in the mountains, but it was getting late in the day so I headed along the edge of Lake Geneva and stayed in Geneva in a hostel before heading the short distance out of the city and into France.
At this stage of the trip I was planning to apply for a Carnet de Passage from the RAC in the UK. This was to travel through Africa, helping me when crossing borders. So I headed through France quickly, only stopping for a couple of days in Montpellier. I really enjoyed walking through the small streets and squares, listening to the French accents of attractive girls sat in the squares. From Montpellier I headed south along the coast and headed inland into the mountains to the border with Andorra.
Andorra was a bit of a surprise for me, I didn’t know anything about it before I arrived, I was expecting a small, poor country, filled with sheep farmers. But what I found was a country full of beautiful mountain scenery with wealthy, modern towns and cities in the valleys. I really loved the place and stayed in a hostel in the capital, Andorra la Vella, it was the best hostel I have ever stayed in. It had a climbing wall, football pitches, Basketball courts, Beach volleyball, a library, pool tables and access to some great hiking tracks. All this and the cleanest and most modern rooms and bathrooms. There is basically one main road through the country which cuts through the valleys. From the capital I headed further along the road, heading south, and crossed over the border into Spain.
My route through Spain was a little rushed as I was aiming to get my replacement paperwork and also apply for a carnet de passage that I thought I needed for Africa. So I stayed in Barcelona for a few days with a French couch surfing host. I explored the city for a while taking pictures and relaxing in the parks. From Barcelona I headed south along the coast to Valencia, I had visited this city before and really enjoyed it and I enjoyed it again. I stayed with a couch surfing host from Venezuela, we went to a couch surfing meeting and then headed to a club. An excellent night with and excellent group of people, Valencia is one of my favourite cities. My next stop was further south along the coast in Alicante, I stayed with a couch surfing host from England who worked in a patenting company. He was a really friendly guy and we had some great chats about travelling. After Alicante I headed south west through the mountains to the city of Granada. I house-sat for an old friend from university who was teaching English there. Her house was up in the beautiful old part of the city which looks down over the Alhambra. After a few days there I headed west to stay with my friends in Malaga, where I stayed for 2 weeks researching the Carnet de Passage, finally deciding not to get one as it isn’t actually needed in most of Africa and is far too expensive in the UK. Once I had decided not to get the carnet I set off again, travelling through the mountains to Ronda and on to Sevilla. I stayed there for a few days with a couch surfing host before heading in to the south of Portugal.
As I travelled across the south coast of Portugal I stayed a few days in Tavira and Lagos before heading north, these small towns were great to visit at this time of year because there were no tourists, it was quiet and the weather was still good. From there I headed north along a beautiful stretch of coastal road, stopping in a village called Almograve, this was a strange place because the hostel was big but completely empty. The village is very popular in the summer, with loads of surfers heading to the local beach, but this time it was just me and the staff. From Almograve I headed further north to Lisboa, I stayed with a couch surfing host for a few days, took some time to explore the city and hung out with my hosts and their friends. From Lisboa I continued north again, this time I stopped with another couch surfing host in Porto. I really liked the city, a friend I met in Romania was about to move there for study, so as I walked around I was imagining the great times she would have. While I was in Porto I got some advice through the couch surfing website, they had suggested I ride through the Douro valley back to the Spanish border. The advice seemed good so I headed east along the Douro valley staying a night in Foz Coa, the road follows the river inland and into the hills, covered with a patchwork or vineyards and small villages. Then I left Portugal taking a small border crossing in the hills back into Spain.
This time my journey through Spain was slower as I took some time to visit places for a few days at a time before heading out again. The first city I visited was Salamanca, while people had commented on how beautiful the city is I didn’t really agree, that is until I went into the old part of the city, great old cobble streets, with beautiful little squares and cathedral. From Salamanca I headed to Madrid, I decided to avoid the motorway, as you have to pay, so I ended up on a mountain road. This is when I had my first fall of the trip, it was very misty and the road was slippery, this added to my tyres which were in need of replacement and a tight corner, resulted in me rolling on the ground and scuffing my engine bars. Luckily I wasn’t hurt and the bike was undamaged. So I continued to Madrid, I arrived on a Friday and spent the weekend exploring the city by day and drinking in the bars at night. Then I headed south to stay with a couch surfing host in Cordova, I really like this city, it is similar to many other southern Spanish cities, with its cobble streets and Arabic architecture, but it is small and has a really warm atmosphere. We walked through the streets, stopping for drinks in some of the squares and visiting a Moroccan tea house. After a few weeks away, it was good to get back to my friends place in Malaga. I took a week or so to get new tyres, chain and sprockets fitted on the bike, then did a full service on the bike and got all my boosters for Africa (Hep A, Hep B, Meningitis, Yellow Fever, Rabies, Typhoid and Cholera) before heading down to Gibraltar.
I was shocked at how small Gibraltar is, it is basically one city and a huge rock. I didn’t actually sleep in Gibraltar itself, I stayed with some couch surfing hosts just over the Spanish border in La Linea. It was coming up to my birthday and luckily there was a group of us in the flat to celebrate, as well as the hosts there were also around seven other couch surfers sleeping on the sofas and floor. I spent some time with a group of Germans who were studying in Cordova, we explored the city and went up the rock to see the monkeys. Then we celebrated my birthday, it was a wild, heavy night which left me in no fit state to ride the bike to the port the next morning. While I was recovering on the sofa I received a message from my German friends, I had left my scarf in their car. After some thought I decided to go fetch it, so the next day I rode back up to Cordova and ended up staying with them for a week, we stayed up late drinking in bars and clubs, spending our afternoons wandering through the city eating sandwiches. Then I drove back down again, and took the ferry out of Europe and into Africa. (Click to read original Blog post).
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