Our favourite part about living in Aalst is that we could have a home again. It’s surprising how much we missed all the normal things like cooking for flatmates from ingredients we kept in the house, baking, having a familiar supermarket, bar and running route and spending Sunday afternoons eating banana bread while watching the cyclocross. Other stuff we did while in Aalst was apply for jobs. Everyday we would search for new ads and apply for anything from scientists to hotel cleaners to bike shop mechanics. But that stuff is all a bit boring, so we’ll only write about the things we did.
The bus to Vienna was shorter than our trip into Slovenia, but not particularly comfortable and we were relieved when we arrived. We had to take the underground across town to the hostel where we were meeting Bryony’s school friend Mel and Hayden. Luckily we have improved at reading the maps since Frankfurt.
This was Bryony’s first ever Christmas away from her family, but luckily the house full of new friends kept us from feeling lonely. Sarah had found an enormous house on air b&b – there were 12 of us and we all fitted into beds with only 2 on a fold out couch. There were 3 bathrooms and 2 kitchens which came in really useful for preparing the food on Christmas day. After a chilled out breakfast and nearly everyone skyping their family at home we set out on a walk to find some ‘snow’. Unfortunately there wasn’t actually any snow around, but the hoar frost in the icy places definitely looked like it.
We arrived in Jesenice after dark, pleased to finally be off the train! We had an hour to wait for the regional train that would take us to Bohinjska Bistrica (it is as hard to pronounce as it looks) so we found a table in the cozy pub across the road from the station and ordered two enormous, cheap pizzas and some beer from the cheerful bar tender. After dinner it was another half an hour on a slow train stopping at tiny, deserted stations until we reached Bistrica. The conductor came to check on us and make sure we got off in the right spot and we jumped out into the middle of the tracks. Wali had decided on the guesthouse which was 4km out of Bistrica and the plan was to just get a taxi up to the place. The only flaw in that plan is that Bohinjska Bistrica is about the size of Clinton, and we couldn’t find any other people let alone a taxi. Luckily Bryony’s phone worked in Slovenia and we called the guest house who drove down to pick us up, crammed us into the childrens seats and took us home.
From Amsterdam we took our first long distance bus in Europe. Although the trains are fantastically connected, they are actually pretty expensive (another good thing about traveling by bike – it’s cheaper!). The buses seem to be for tourists so stop less and are often direct, even if they are less comfortable. The bus from Amsterdam to Frankfurt, where we were heading to stay with Bryony’s friend Rohan was actually faster than the (cheap) train. After a cramped 5 hours we arrived just before 10 at Frankfurt central station. We had directions from Rohan to take the underground to a stop near her house, but we didn’t realise that you had to take another underground to reach the right line! So we spent about an hour wandering around in the tunnels beneath the central station trying to work out where we were going. The central station is not the nicest place to be late at night – there were so many men, lots of drunk/high people and a very strong smell of urine. As soon as we got away from the central station the whole place seemed a lot nicer.
Even though the title of this blog is “Bryony and James go biking”, and we currently have no bikes with us, we are going to keep sharing some of our adventures in Europe just in case you like hearing about what we do (and not just what our bikes do). If you are just here for the bikes we won’t be offended if you quit now, although you should be prepared for some more cycling adventures as soon as the sun starts making a more consistent appearance.
We rugged up again and set off early from Oostende with about 80km ahead of us. We wouldn’t have thought twice about that distance in Asia, but at our European pace it was going to be a long day. The ride along the coast should have been beautiful, but the Belgians have built row upon row of ugly apartments along the beach front and the road usually goes behind these. At one point we were able to ride along the front, but being the shutters were closed on most of the apartments, there was no one around and the “for sale” signs everywhere gave the whole place a lonely, ghostly feel. The moody grey skies and thin wind didn’t help either.
We set of from Lander’s house in the drizzle, but with a good idea of the route and a shorter day planned to try and accommodate our super slow speeds. Unfortunately the weather really didn’t want to play along. First it was just raining with a very strong headwind, then it started hailing large rocks of ice which smashed into our pink faces. Our gear is not really suitable for winter touring, as we’d planned to get all the things we needed for the Himalayas on the road somewhere to cut down on weight for Asia. Our gloves quickly became wet and froze our fingers, and the wind cut straight through our shoes onto our wet socks. We both had enough layers to keep our core warm, so we knew we weren’t going to die (and anyway, Flanders is so populated that we could find someone to rescue us if it got serious) but it wasn’t much fun.
After our miserable day biking to Apeldoorn we decided to employ train travel to help us reach our next destination – Lander’s home in Aalst. Without too much hassle we were able to find the right train that would take us from Apeldoorn to Rotterdam where we would switch onto the train to Roosendaal. The train travel was pretty easy. We just purchased an extra ticket for our bikes on the machines at the station and loaded the bikes into a carriage with a bike symbol on it. We had to take all the bags off to jam the bikes into place but with two people the tetris is a lot easier than it would be alone I imagine. The second train was a little more difficult because we had to hold the bikes across the door and move them every time people wanted on or off. We were in the bike carriage again but for some reason a person was sitting in the seats that fold up to give the bikes room and wouldn’t move for us. We aren’t sure if we were getting some kind of train etiquette wrong, or if they were just being obtuse.
We ended up spending 8 nights in Utrecht getting our bearings in this new country and exploring the city where we hope to live. We first heard of Utrecht three years ago when the Tour de France started there. It’s a bit difficult from the other side of the world to choose a place to shift to, so it seems like as good a reason as any. After hopping around accommodation for a few nights we settled in an apartment which was a fantastic choice. Food in the supermarket here is much cheaper than eating out, the opposite of what we found in Asia. And we were able to find lots of foods we had been without for months. Cheese! And bread that isn’t sweet with weird salty floss!