10 THOUGHTS ON CYCLING THE BALKANS IN LATE FALL

27th February 2016

cycling the balkans in late fall

This post has been a long time coming because I still to this day cannot find the right words for it. My original thought was to offer some kind of guide to the places I went, what I ate, what I packed, how I paced myself and so forth. But for some reason, it feels pointless. Besides, during the month and a half that I cycled the 3,000km from Istanbul to Milan, I fully disconnected from any form of online activity, from updating my social media to gathering facts for the greater good of blogging. I was too busy taking in whatever the hell I was putting myself through, absorbing what was thrown at me, the brutal climate change after nearly two years in the heat of South East Asia and physically trying to keep up with a four-year veteran cyclist. Here are a few thoughts I gathered nevertheless.

Cycling in Croatia

shepherd in turkey

1. THE DIGITAL DETOX WAS MUCH NEEDED

sunset in the bush

I have been going pretty much balls to the wall with my online work for the last year and have loved every second of it. Seeing my blog take off and my readership double itself every passing month has been one of my biggest professional rewards. However, the few weeks preceding the beginning of my tour, I clearly overworked myself, didn’t sleep much and got myself in a state I had promised to never get into again because of work. Putting my professional life on the backburner to cycle and reconnect with nature and myself was exactly what I needed at that moment in time.

2. I SHOULD HAVE BETTER TRUSTED MYSELF

cycling Serbia

I tagged along with a person I barely knew as it felt safer to tackle this great big unknown. I was scared of camping in the cold, cycling through mountain passes and sleeping alone in the wild, in places I knew nothing of. The truth is, as two solo riders, we could not come to a compromise, never got on and there were tensions between us the whole way through. I know now that I could have done this whole trip on my own had I been better equipped and, since I relied so heavily on someone else for navigation and shelter, I feel like I don’t fully own this trip.

3. WE WERE MADE TO LIVE IN THE OUTDOORS

Wild camping in the Balkans, Eastern Europe

Edirne, Turkey

For over a month, I was 100% in the outdoors, breathing fresh mountain air, day and night, and it felt amazing. This is what we humans are meant to do.

4. NOT WASHING IS OK! SOMETIMES.

mostly amelie cycling balkans, eastern europe

I may look inconspicuous in photos, but I smelled really bad! While I had the luxury of gas station bathrooms and temple showers in South East Asia, the washing options were scarce in freezing Eastern Europe. And when I did find a shower, I generally didn’t have time to wash my clothes at the same time, so I stank no matter what. While this was obviously a challenge, my usually dry and flaky skin really enjoyed the break from soap and got really soft and hydrated. So if you’re up for an experiment, try not washing yourself for 15 days – my personal best! Or don’t…

5. THE COUNTRYSIDE OF EASTERN EUROPE IS NOT VEGAN FRIENDLY

cheeseless pizza, vegan bulgaria

vegan oatmeal camping

These were the restaurant options: cheeseless pizza (sidenote: they use ketchup instead of tomato sauce in many places), boring tomato and lettuce salads and french fries. Obviously, we did a lot of our own cooking; generally oatmeal for breakfast and a big vegetable and lentil stew for dinner. Lunch was simple, often bread and tahini with fruit.

6. FALL IS A GREAT TIME FOR CYCLING

rosehip

foraging for food in the balkans

walnut picking balkans

Besides the obvious fact that fall is a glorious season, we were able to do a lot of foraging. From apples, to grapes, to walnuts, to rosehip, to pears to hazelnuts to nettle, we were able to supplement our diet with things picked along the way. And whatever we bought was always local, fresh and extremely cheap.

7. GOOD EQUIPMENT BUYS CONFIDENCE

wild camping bulgaria

My tent was too short and gathered water at both ends where it was in contact with my body, my sleeping bag was only meant to be used in temperature down to 8 degrees Celsius, my waterproof clothes were not really waterproof, I didn’t own my own burner and my shoes started disintegrating after a few weeks. These technical details all contributed to making me not so confident when I found myself alone and I will know better for my next tour.

8. PEOPLE OF THE BALKANS: I FREAKING LOVE YOU

farmers in serbia

I encountered so much generosity in every country I visited, from the amazing couple in Istanbul who pretty much saved my life by gearing me up with winter clothes, to the people who gave me free tea, free food and free shelter along the way, to the people who just shared a bit of their life and gladly answered my dozens of questions over a beer. It has been incredible. Thank you.

Read on: Things to do in Sarajevo

9. NO COMPANY IS MUCH BETTER THAN BAD COMPANY

bike touring in the snow, bosnia, easter europe

I was lazy at distancing myself from a pretty poisonous partnership and I realized that it had impacted how I saw the world for the time it lasted. I look back on photos and realized some of the beauty I was unfortunately blind to because I was too busy getting into arguments. The world is a much more beautiful place explored alone, trust me.

10. CAN WE DO THAT AGAIN?

camping in hay barn, bosnia and herzegovina

bicycles in the sunset

bike touring Croatia

Despite the many tears shed along the way and the handful of times I felt completely miserable and wished for a warm bath, a cup of tea and a fluffy white bed, once I got all of those things, I wished I was back on the road living the adventure again. Life does begin at the end of our comfort zone and, at the end of the day, good memories aren’t made when you are fully rested and clean as a whistle, quaintly drinking a cup of tea in a warm bed, are they?

wild camping bulgaria

market in bulgaria

croatia adriatic view

campfire

bike touring eastern europe

18 thoughts on “10 THOUGHTS ON CYCLING THE BALKANS IN LATE FALL

  1. Charlie

    You know, I really love this article because it felt like… such a real travel story. It sounds tough and like it was a steep learning curve, but also one of those experiences that makes you appreciate the less stressful moments so much more. And you got some incredible photos as well, so totally worth it 😉

    Reply
    1. Charlie

      Also, pretty sure I really love that photo of the sheep farmer because I just watched the film “Rams” (really recommend) about sheep farmers in Iceland… so it seemed to strike a familiar chord with me.

      Reply
  2. Julia

    Such an inspiring story to share, and beautiful photographs that go with it! I love your honesty regarding travelling with a ‘buddy’ too, it does not always work out the way we want – and that that is okay.

    Reply
    1. Amélie Post author

      Very true! I was a bit mad with myself because 2015 was all about learning to be content on my own and deciding to pair with a friend – and miserably failing at it – felt like a double fail a little bit. Onwards and upwards 🙂

      Reply
  3. Thayrn

    As a seasoned world tourer, I can appreciate the hard-felt insights you’ve discovered.
    That said, your photos engulf the viewer, as your prose.
    Very true, we are meant to live ‘in’ the earth, and digital detox will surely be a real, clinical therapy!
    Much appreciation for sharing your travels!

    Reply
  4. Yukeshwaran Devadas

    Beautifully written, I could feel your whole journey from your words, especially the last paragraph which was truly inspiring. All The Best & Take Care Amelie!

    Reply
  5. Adelya

    Thank you very much for your travel stories! They are very inspiring. Can’t wait to read more about your adventures! Good luck and all the best to you!=)

    Reply
  6. sara khalifeh

    Hello! i’m in the final stages of planning my first cycling trip from Istanbul to Bosnia going up the Albanian coast and my final planning stages I mean realizing how much i do NOT know about cycle touring and how excited I am to try!

    a couple questions if you have the time!
    i’m planning on wild camping most of the way was this an issue for you? was finding camp spots every night hard? I’ve heard warnings about undetonated landmines so now i’m worried about going too far off the road to feel comfortable camping.
    Also as a girl doing this alone I was wondering if that presented any issues for you or you felt comfortable being alone?
    I’m planning on heading off in the next couple days and cycling through may into early june!
    any advice is welcome!
    thanks for your time!
    Sara

    Reply
    1. sara khalifeh

      Sorry i realized after that my wording was weird, since you said you traveled with another solo traveler throughout your trip. Now that you have that experience do you think its possible to do as a solo female traveler?

      Reply

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