The summer of 2015 was fast approaching and without much planning or really experience of touring on the bike apart from maybe travelling for 2 hours maximum. I had decided this would be a great time to start a short adventure, but with no real plan, end date or route in mind, my journey expanded turning into an epic 5-week saga, with ups and downs, lefts and rights, squiddly-diddlies, mountains and lots of gelatos.
So sometime during the start of the summer, I left. With only a general direction and an adventure on my mind, never knowing where I would be more than one, two days in advance, I would wake up in the morning and check my map to see what was within a 3-8 hours drive, book a hostel to stay in and ride, enjoying everything what came my way.
The above map documents my trip, traveling through France, Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Italy, Sicily, Switzerland, Belgium and finally back home.
Going through France, I was fortunately to stay with family close to “Le Man”, then traveling down the west coast of france to some beautiful places such as ”La Rochelle”, which can only be labelled as “Couple Central”. Traveling over the Pyrenees where I had a couple of mishaps, but the locals were always there to help out, In one circumstance a local Invited her whole family over to help me get my bike out a ditch and giving me beer and offering me a place to stay for the night, which I had to kindly decline.
*Not the above mentioned occasion, but somewhere in the pyrenees when I mistakenly thought the grass wasn’t hiding a small hole… whoops*
*In the clouds, some high point on the pyrenees road, just prior to descending into the thunderstorm*
Heading over the Pyrenees to Pamplona was some of the best riding of the trip, apart from when I started to descend and I instantly found myself in a thunderstorm for 3 hours. Having said that, I wouldn’t change a thing, it’s the little things that make the trip memorable and having flooded boots or pruned fingers for over a day , really couldn’t dampen my spirits!(Small Tip, Heated grips with wet hands really accelerates this process)
Riding across the the northern coast of spain I got to visit the food capital of Spain, San Sebastian, I’ve learned to Surf In Somo and explored some beautiful countryside and architecture of Salamanca
The capital of Portugal, Lisbon was one of the highlights of the trip, having stayed in “Home Hostel Lisbon” the “best medium hostel in the world” for 4 years straight as rated by Hostelworld.com. I just want to mention, Lisbon really sets the standard for hostels due to the fierce competition for government funding, they currently have 6/10 of the best hostels in the world, therefore I would really consider going for a hostel over a hotel and you will be very surprised at what they offer and you’ll meet some great people along the way.
I found it hard to leave the hostel especially after “Mama’s Evening Meals”. I really Loved Lisbon and what it had to offer, from the world famous aquarium where I took some of my favorite photos of the trip, to the hill-top paradise of Sintra, with its pastel-coloured villas and palaces, not to far from Cabo da Roca ( The most western point in europe ), where upon crossing over the tourist barrier to sit on the edge of the cliff and to officially be the most western westerner for 5 minutes I found 5 euros lodged into the cliffside plants, which was either impossible luck, or someone placed it there for the next rebel to find.
Crossing though the Portugal was beautiful and the people I had met, either Locals or people in hostel were some of the nicest, even when I found myself in some shady places due to hunger, hear and Long days, but what I found was always overwhelming hospitality
The next stop was Gibraltar, I spent 3 days catching up with family from my Dad’s side and 3 brothers.
The days were spent mostly relaxing and getting hustled by my card shark of a grandmother… occasionally winning, but she always insisted that she ‘let me win’.
From here I headed to Valencia, where I had planned to give couchsurfing a shot, but my SatNav had led me to Valencia street, some 3 hours shorts of the real destination, so the plan never came to fruition.
My plan from here was to head back to France via Andorra, Then deciding to go
*Just prior to attempting to climb some mountain late at night, best idea yet Kane*
So regretfully I was caught in another storm going through the alps and had to resort to going through the most expensive toll tunnel I have seen. About 40 Euros over 30 minutes… ouch.
Eventually making it to Milan and my first experience of Italy was a great one after find one of the best Hostels I had stayed in since Lisbon. While in this hostel an eccentric and eccentrically drunk Sicilian told me instead of heading down the coast I should head to Genoa just south of Milan and get a ferry to Sicily and head back up the west coast of Italy from Sicily. Taking his words of wisdom to heart, I took the same trip, but in reverse and it was some of the best advice I got on the trip.
From Milan I headed to Pisa and Florence, Rome and the Amalfi coast to some of the most beautiful roads and rides I have yet to experience… There’s certainly a reason this place tops many lists as the best road in the world.
It can be said that my time in Italy was something special, I had found many things on my travels, but the Gelato I found in Florence had to top the list. I must have been eating 2-3 Gelatos a day while In italy, all in search of the Holy grail, the one Gelato to rule them all and I believe I found it.
Rome is everything that I hoped it would be, a mecca for architecture, the home of the papal state, with enough museums and attractions that you could barely visit them all in a single lifetime. They definitely represented on the food front too, some of the best pizza and pasta was devoured just outside of the Vatican City.
I also had quite a lot of fun riding around the city and its the ancient cobbled streets, on occasion being in places I wasn’t meant to ride and being told off by the police for riding around the colosseum, which was a strictly ‘no-pedestrian road’…. Whoops
Heading south I made it to the gorgeous roads of the Amalfi Coast which is renowned for it’s beauty and also it’s sweet lemons which grown on cliff-side terraces all along the coast. If you are ever in need of a cool refreshment or break, a small kiosk offering ‘Lemon Granitas’ is never too far away to quench your thirst.
Sicily was a little different from what you might expect, of course the major tourists attractions were littered with the godfather memorabilia, but the people and culture were very different than my movie themed preconceptions.
While in Catania, I had quite a random night with some of the other people staying in the hostel, after going to multiple bars and clubs, we eventually found ourselves at a Pool/Foam/Beach party, which resulted in some wet clothes and a nice hangover.
The next day was the time to explore and to make my way to Palermo, heading back north and around the famous Mt Etna, I travelled through lots of small villages, In one it seemed like the typical gangster movie scene, with 20-30 men in black suits congregated on the road.
While heading to Palermo, I had accidently left my credit card at a toll-booth, so I was a bit stuck for cash when I headed for the hostel. Once i reached the hostel, I was treated with nothing but hospitality, a french family offered me food and an Irish teacher offered to lend me a couple hundred euros like it was nothing, but under the promise to mail it to him when I got back home (talk about trusting).
On my way back I got the ferry from Palermo back to Genoa like the Sicilian had advised me and headed back to the same hostel in Milan to have one more day of adventure and chilling in the hostel before heading towards the north.
From this point on the pace certainly increased, Going from Milan to Zurich where I wept a tear for my wallet at how expensive everything was, then to Brussels home of the french fries and Burger sauce ( So I had a massive burger and french fry sandwich).
The final day was one of the longest, going from Brussels to Manchester + a couple of hours waiting for the ferry, at least I didn’t have the portugese heat following me, but even better, I had the typical british weather on my tail, which was a nice welcome home.
The final leg of the adventure, from Manchester to Newcastle, Just in time to surprise everyone, who I may have informed I was still in belgium.. Whoops
I think it finally dawned on me that the adventure was over, that my slightly sun-bleached beard and tanned skin would slowly fade (still have my T-shirt tan almost 10 months later) and that I had to get back to reality just in time for winter. We have a saying in the North, something along the lines of ‘Winter is Coming’.
In anycase, this was the best experiences of my life, I had seen and felt more of the world than in all of my 23 years. I had challenged myself daily, met lots of great people and ate a whole ton of amazing food. Most of all, I was more prepared for my next adventure… whatever and wherever that may be!