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Two Australians, Europe and Folding Bicycles (Ruby Johnson) PDF Printable Version E-mail


Two Australians, Europe and Folding Bicycles

Ruby and Bill Johnson

 April-July 2005

To view the complete gallery of Bill and Ruby's pictures, click here.

Ruby and Bill, a Oz_(12).JPGretired couple from Perth in Western Australia, hOz_(11).JPGave ages which bracket the biblical allowance of three-score-years-and-ten. We first met them in 2002 on a campground in Brisbane in Queensland, just as we finished our round-Australia campervan journey and they finished a cycle ride from Bundaberg to Brisbane.  In the summer of 2005, they supplemented their existing bicycle stock with two Giant folding bikes and flew Perth to Istanbul, pausing only in Dubai.

Using trains,Ready_to_go.JPG buses and bicycles they successfully completed a journey through Eastern Turkey (!?!), Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, into Munich and a flight back to Perth.

Here are some extracts from emails sent by Ruby and Bill, often in trying circumstances, to friends in Australia (including us) as they made their journey across Turkey and through Eastern Europe.

We are definitely not creating any cycling records! The distancesHotel_in_Istanbul.JPG are too great and the terrain too ferocious. There are lots of questions about how you get around here since campgrounds are very thin on the ground!

To start with, we took the ferry from Istanbul over the Sea of Marmara to Yalova, heading to Izmit. With 2 routes on offer, we chose the inland as it appeared shorter.

We arrived about noon in Yalova, expecting a pleasant cycle ride along the coast and then inland. What we didn't know was that the route was over a mountain range. It was about 5.30 pm before we got to the top and it was very pleasant to have enough time to enjoy the lush greenery and the spring blossoms. However, it was quite disconcerting to find very little human habitation along the way and no-one was offering any accommodation or food.

Around 7.30 pm (it was still light) we reached a larger village which was still at least 11 km from the lake and 25 km from Izmit. As we trudged up a hill, 2 young lads, about 17 years old, fell into conversation with us. We asked if there was accommodation in the next village. Gravely shaking their heads, they just said 'Izmit'. Crestfallen, I said that was too far for us. Brightly, they answered that we could camp right there -  indicating a field complete with grazing donkey and running stream. "Are you sure that's all right?" "Oh sure!" Next problem is: "Can we get some food in the village?" “No”, they solemnly shook their heads. So we decided we'd start the diet that day.

We hadn't finished getting the tent up when back they came with 2 buns contaiOn_the_way_to_Iznik.JPGning grilled meat, tomatoes, cucumber and sauce. They emphatically refused any money. From then on we had visits from some of the local men, a young lass learning English and another lass with flowers for me. We were overwhelmed and deeply humbled. This was a window onto what we were to encounter throughout our travels.

We certainly went on to conquer the east: loved Trabzon; Erzurum was interesting but Dogubayaz was very challenging. Lake Van is huge - we know because we went right around it. This was not really by choice, but that was how the bus went. The best way to explore would be with a vehicle; we have only been able to scratch the surface.

In historic Antakya (AnMt.Nemrut.JPGtioch), we rode our bikes through its ancient, Biblical streets. We just loved Cappadocia too. Believe me, it was a real chore, doing emails! We love to receive them though. Sorry for the hieroglyphics; it's the Turkish alphabet and the computers are just so slow. The East is very different; we will have to talk more when it's easier to communicate.

At Cannakale, opposite the Gallipoli peninsula, we gave the legs some exercise and rode out some 30 km (20 miles) to Troy. However, we got some more exercise the next day when we headed down the Gallipoli Peninsula. Cannakale is a very pleasant place and of a comfortable size. We can't imagine what it is like when it swells with 20,000 and more people for Anzac Day. After this, it will only be a few more days before we head towards Romania, just when we have got comfortable here!

Once again we have taken time out to keep in touch. We spent 2 dCopy_of_French_Couple_Edirne.JPGays around Gallipoli, but we could have spent much longer there. Reluctantly, we then said farewell to Turkey. From Edirne, it was an 18 km ride to the border and 10 of those kilometres were lined up with trucks waiting to go across. This didn't inspire much confidence in us! However, we sailed through - well we rode through. When we got to the Bulgarian side, we managed to run into a group filming and they found us quite interesting. They were especially interested in Bill's age!

We would have likedCopy_of_Repair_man_Sofia.JPG to send an email from Bulgaria to see if you could read Cyrillic. Sadly, they managed to hide their internet centres too well. The contrast with Turkey, once we were over the border, was stark: it was a quite different world. One of the challenges was their use of the Cyrillic alphabet, but luckily many of the young people knew English, so we made out.

Red was definitely the in-colour for the ladies' hair - and I mean red of every shade! One of the greatest contrasts with Turkey was the greenness of the countryside, but naturally that doesn't happen without a constant supply of water - and we have had our share of that!

We left Bulgaria on the 7th and crossed the Danube on one of the largest steel bridges in Europe. We got into Bucharest in the afternoon and we were once again overwhelmed by the contrasts. You can forget Vienna – Bucharest is the city to visit! Its population is overCopy_of_Brasov.JPG 2 million, but it copes well. The city is full of beautiful old buildings, tree-lined streets and gardens and it is surrounded by water.

It is summer here, so it rains every day and the trains are on strike. There is no bus service of any value and so we are now a little anxious about how long we might be away for? We may have to ask for a collection to be taken to get us home! In the meantime, keep that mail rolling in - we love it and it's so good to hear from you all.

We arrived in Budapest at 4 o'cCopy_of_PICT0447.JPGlock this morning, although this is not the usual way we travel. After an expensive taxi drive all over Budapest, looking for cheap accommodation, we eventually settled for what was probably the dearest room we've had so far! Rang Ian but, alas, they have headed out of town. We spent the morning exploring the city on foot for orientation, and then the rest of the day on the bikes.

Later, we had some wonderful warm days, with lots of cycling, a few hills, historic towns, a journey around the biggest lake in Europe - Lake Balaton - ending in Gyor.

Slovakia was only meant to be a transit day or so, but we ended spending nearly a week there! We enjoyed cheaper, mostly bungalow camping. It's so much nicer when it rains. However, as we head into the Czech Republic and Germany, camping will be in the rain or whatever weather comes.

Slovakia's capital city, Bratislava, opened up a window of hidden treasure for us. Once again, we had some wonderful days of cycling, met some special people and were amazed at the history that is so well preserved in its historic towns. We spent our last days in the Slovak Tatras, so it was such an amazing contrast to see the other side.

Today we are in Poland. Yesterday, in continuous rain, we rode across the border from Slovakia and found ourselves on the other side of the Tatra mountains in the town of Zakopane. Needless to say we didn't use our tent last night. In fact, we have spent most nights in wee, wonderful bungalows which are delightfully dry.

The contrast between Slovakia and Poland is amazing in just a few kilometres. Unkown to us, Zakopane is also the place where the late Pope John Paul grew up. To celebrate this, the town has built the most magnificent church. This is also an area which is noted for its wooden structures, each a work of art in themselves. The weather has finally smiled on us this afternoon, although we are here being responsible and attending to our email. However, we did have a good bike ride this morning. Tomorrow, we aim to get to Krakow. There are just four weeks to go, but we wonder if we can get an extension?

Everything is always a story in itself and when you are travelling, every dCopy_of_Eagles_nest_trail_Krakow.JPGay is an adventure.

From Krakow in south-west Poland, we rode the Eagle Nest Trail through bush land dotted with old castles. We had wonderful weather and camped in the most unusual places with some delightful companions.

Our next big stop was in Czestochowa, where the Sanctuary was celebrating the 300th anniversary since the black Madonna was saved from fire. There were thousands and thousands of people there and although it poured with rain for the whole 2 days, we all stood there for the ceremonies.

The roads were shocking but we ploughed on from one pothole to the next. Wroclaw impressed us with its renowned panorama, its history and its prestigious buildings – although they were somewhat neglected!

Next we reached theCopy_of_Bohemian_.Konopiste.JPG Czech Republic, with 7 days in Prague - 2 of them around the city and the rest visiting the historic places round and about. Then we travelled west to Karlovy Vary, Cheb, south to Pilzen, east to Trebic and then south again to Ceske Kumlov, just north of the Austrian border.

By this stage, the pannier carrier on my bicycle had cracked but I was still determined to ride the Danube! We must have looked an impressive sight with ropes encompassing the bike. The carrier finally broke altogether near a town in Austria but, amazingly, we were able to get a new one.

We rode on to Munich and had 3 wonderful days riding all over the city. We finally packed up all our gear in pouring rain, rode into the railway station and took the train out to the airport. That was THE END of the journey!

Sadly, I had posted a collection of valuables (including my diary, which by that time was full) from Poland back to our home in Perth. Every other thing that I had sent arrived except that one – the most important! However, we have wonderful, wonderful memories, although already the names of many places are fading.

PS 3 October 2005: Ruby has just emailed us to say that the diary has finally turned up!