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Orient Express

Paris to Istanbul via EuroVelo 6 (sort of... )

The experience:

3600 kms over ten weeks July – October 2012

An evocative name isn't it?   The journey from Paris to Istanbul has long excited the imagination of many and while the fabled train journey is now just an infrequent (and expensive!) shadow of it's former glory, there are equally exotic variants, like the annual cycling expedition organised by Tour d'Afrique – check out the 'More Information' link – but there's another way too, the EuroVelo 6

EuroVelo is a brilliant concept, a network of 12 long–distance cycle routes crossing Europe. The total proposed length is 60,000 km, of which more than 44,000 km are in place already. In theory, for a route to be part of EuroVelo it must:

º  have no gradient above 6%
º  be wide enough for two cyclists
º  have an average of no more than 1,000 motorised vehicles a day
º  be sealed for 80% of its length
º  be open 365 days a year
º  have
    »  provision points every 30 km
    »  accommodation every 50 km
    »  public transport every 150 km

Sounds really good doesn't it?

Naturally these things don't always apply tho, for example, I found gradients of up to 20% on the EV6 in Germany and accommodation can be hard to come by particularly in 'New' Europe...   Whatever!

In short, the ride was from Paris, France to Istanbul, Turkey along much of the EuroVelo 6 route, but diverging at Belgrade to pass thru Sofia, Bulgaria and on to Istanbul rather than following the Danube River to the Black Sea

Getting ready to go:

Apart from the usual ride training to get the legs ready for pedalling day after day there were a few things to do:

Maps:  

While I'm ancient enough to love paper maps, I used a bike GPS (Global Positioning System) – a Garmin Edge® 800 a bike computer/GPS – and for those of you with a bike GPS, here's an interactive map of the EuroVelo 6 route, the kmz file that goes with it can be downloaded from the 'More Information' link

There seems to be little middle ground in cyclists views of using GPS, it seems that it's seen as either really good or really bad, but I gave it a go anyway and using the kmz file that generated the Google map above, I created a path which took me down country roads rather than highways – but like my in–car GPS, I had a dead–end or three along the way...   and the country roads were often pretty crook while highways were often a dream to ride!   Anyway, to use the GPS I had to learn about routes, tracks, waypoints and a whole heap of esoterica, but there are plenty of places on the web to create/edit GPS routes/tracks, have a look at:

http://ridewithgps.com or
http://www.gpsvisualizer.com

and then there are the zillions of 'ride' collections like:

http://www.bikely.com

In the end tho, I used paper maps way more than the GPS, especially the Huber Verlag 1:100,000 6 map set for France and the Verlag Esterbauer 4 booklet set for the Danube. Both were pretty good but sometimes a tad vague and this, combined with the sometimes crap signage meant that I spent a bit of time getting lost every now and again

Visa:   I didn't need a visa. In fact while I crossed plenty of frontiers it wasn't until well into eastern Europe before I had to stop at a frontier post and even then the 'formalities' were pretty perfunctory and always quick – even at the amazingly busy Kapitan Andreevo post between Bulgaria and Turkey

B/trike:   Said it before, but I'll say it again: bikes and planes don't always mix well

I flew Emirates – cos their baggage allowance is 10kgs more than most other airlines – and I ended up paying excess baggage both from and to Australia. Ouch!

I used a 'normal' bike box from the LBS on the outward journey (it arrived in Paris pretty well trashed) and for the return journey from Istanbul I was able to buy everything I needed in the back streets of Beyazit (and probably cos it wasn't a bike box, the box arrived in Sydney totally trashed, the trike emerged relatively unscathed tho)

Vaccinations:   I didn't bother

Once you're there:

I spent a few days just being a tourist in Avignon – it was as fabulous as you would expect – to acclimatise to the time-zone, the food, the water and to life in general...   and I had absolutely no difficulty with uppity locals even tho my French language skills are best described as crap

Accommodation:  

Warmshowers hosts, bed 'n breakfasts, pensions and hotels were pretty easy to find everywhere and without exception everyone was really helpful and secure bike parking was offered even in the smallest of places – as was Wi Fi

Food:   Ahhhhhhhhh, the food! Fond memories: And finding a good wine to wash down the good food was very easy (and believe it or not, not that expensive)

Plenty of small shops and markets along the way, and for those times when you just want to watch the world go by, plenty of cafes for coffee and a snack (or a nice cold beer)

Money:   This was a 'credit card' ride and everything, well, almost everything, was available by credit card and for those things that weren't, there are heaps of ATMs

Roads:   Variable! were mostly well paved and often there were nice clearly marked bike lanes and where there weren't bike lanes there were nice verges. Of course out in the backblocks the roads are more like those in Oz – a collection of patches and pot-holes

Traffic:   Roads are mostly very good; traffic – amazingly – good

In towns the traffic was often heavy, but then again, there were bike lanes almost everywhere and where they didn't exist, traffic was always manageable. Compared to Sydney drivers, French drivers were a dream come true; patient, courteous and inevitably friendly

Outside the towns where there were no bike lanes drivers seemed accustomed to sharing the road and would simply wait until an appropriate space opened up before overtaking. At intersections and on round abouts more than one driver ceded right of way with a smile and a wave even tho they had precedence

The bits that weren't so good?   The climbs! Some of the ascents were murderous, and Lance made it look so easy...  

The most frequently asked questions:

By folk in Oz:   Why?

This really was a case of it seemed like a nice idea...

By folk in Europe:   Is it easy to ride a bike like that?

As always, the trike was an instant ice-breaker and despite my appalling language skills I had a lot of lovely chats with a diverse range of people about the trike. Trying to explaining planetrary gears is hard enough in English, you don't want to even think about trying it in another language