It is hard to put into words what I am feeling, this past month is a jumble of emotions and memories. It is hard to conceptualize the fact that I did actually leave my job over a month ago and have since then been unemployed (other than 3 days of freelance work which I have taken on which I will discuss in my next post) and travelling Europe. I have been over 4 borders, heard 5 languages and have completely changed my body. I have climbed 1200 meters (on a bike), I have explored cities I never thought I’d have the opportunity to see and I can honestly say I have made friends which I am sure I will know and hear from for many years to come.
Throughout this experience there have already been many trials and tribulations as well as ‘A Ha’ moments. In reality it has been a real eye opener spending this much time with my partner. We have been married for 11 years and together for 13, but in reality we have never spent a dedicated extended amount of time together. Our life in London was actually becoming more and more disconnected. As both of us excelled and moved forward in our careers, yes we had more money and could buy each other nicer things, but we saw each other less and less. Often it would feel like we would meet up at weekends when we were both still pissed off and tired from what happened during the week so we would want a drink, which would then make us even more pissed off and tired, and we would never really have that time to communicate and connect. I thought spending this much time with my partner would be much more difficult, but as the stress of London life has melted from both of us it is actually just comfortable and rewarding being together. You are going through some difficult experiences when you are in foreign countries, not to mention travelling through those countries on a bike, and you get to share and grow from those experiences together. Don’t get me wrong you can definitely get on each other’s nerves. Someone always feels like they are doing more, and someone always feels like they could do more, but you learn to compromise and understand what the other person needs.
There is also the adaptation to different cultures. Personally I have found it more comfortable in Germany than I did in France, Belgium or Luxembourg, even though French is (that little bit) easier for me to understand. For me, I find the German culture more relaxed and closer to the mindset of British culture. Although I would definitely say I have enjoyed the food more in France and Belgium than in Germany.
There are other cultural norms which take constant getting used to, for example Sunday is a closed day for all shopping and often eateries and bars, so you need to be prepared to make your own way on those days. In Germany we have even found that shops, bars and restaurants often still close for a two hour lunch break as well. Other fun tidbits have been that guesthouses often aren’t listed online so you can’t book ahead of time, toilets are generally separate to shower rooms and cars and walkers have the utmost respect for cyclists.
Generally everyone we have met have been kind, welcoming and helpful. Other than their curiosity as to why Americans would vote for Trump and why British people would vote for Brexit, I haven’t felt any nuances of stereotyping and/or other ethnocentricisms towards us on this trip.
The riding and the places we have seen have been beautiful, inspiring and sometimes, believe it or not, boring (by this I mean you are travelling at a very slow pace on a bicycle and in reality sometimes you get tired of seeing the same countryside scenery, or another small town with a medieval cathedral)… but you can always be sure it will be different and surprising. The riding has been difficult in different and varied ways. Like most people I think I really had no way of preparing for this trip, I worked all the time, and in reality who has 5 hours a day to dedicate to cycle training, so I went into this generally unfit. After a few days the riding was really taking a toll mentally and physically, but after about three weeks it all seemed to get easier. I could see muscle definition on parts of my body that I didn’t know I had muscles in. We started by doing 35-40km’s a day and feeling pretty tired and now a 50km day feels easy. I no longer feel breathless climbing flights if stairs and lugging the bags around doesn’t feel so hard. I also have a pride in my physical abilities which I havent really felt before. I feel confident I can do the riding now.
With these body changes there have also been unexpected difficulties. At the beginning I felt like I was in a constant state of having thrush (or a yeast infection for my American readers) which didn’t get sorted until I picked up some special (magical) soap in France. I lost a lot of weight really quickly and even though I was eating a lot, I was waking up at night hungry (which had never happened to me before). I have now levelled out on the weight loss. I got sore on the inside of my butt cheeks, but I now have calluses there which helps the situation. When the riding got too much I felt pretty emotional and irratible. That is now controllable but I have learned when I need to rest and when I need to eat. Going to the bathroom (number 2 that is) has been a constant worry for me on this trip, as I am sure it is for anyone who changes their lifestyle this much. I have learned to think about what I need to ensure I stay healthy.
I really don’t want to forget the amazing things I have seen which sometimes get overlooked because of the nature of the trip. I would say for me this trip has happened on two very separate levels, the trip that is about the riding (and the struggles that come with that) and the trip that is about the travelling. Some of the highlights for me have been the Citadell in Namur, Belgium, a beautiful little town with lots to offer and our favourite beer pub that we have visited yet. The caves of Dinant, Belgium; I have been to quite a few caves but this was a totally unique experience. The tour allows you to travel the caves virtually alone with the help of an incredibly enthusiastic tour guide. The Grund area of Luxembourg City, which has the most beautiful cafes and restaurants on the river and the fun we had traversing this area during the city wide running race. The canal ride through the Alsace region on our way to Severn France. This could be the most beautiful bike ride I ever ride in my life! The architecture that surrounds the wobbly streets in Strasbourg, and probably the best glass of 2 euro white wine I have ever had. Freiburg’s fun University vibe. My bike crash into a huge river rat as we entered the Black Forest and the mountain climb through the forest with the most beautiful clear streams. And then, finally reaching the Danube river! And all this in one month! I have to pinch myself when I think about how much this wonderful world has to offer us!