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Orient Express

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

 

The experience:

3600 kms over ten weeks July - October 2012

image of flag of the European UnionAn 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

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:

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 a kmz file of the EuroVelo 6 (4 KB)

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:  

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, it arrived in Sydney totally trashed, the trike emerged relatively unscathed tho)

Vaccinations:   I didn't bother

 

Once you're there:

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:   Rare Charolais beef with mustard ice cream in France, home smoked trout in Austria, langosh in Hungary, imam bayildi in Turkey and lots, lots more mouth-watering memories abound!   To say that I ate like a couchon is an understatement, even so I 'lost' 5 kilos of weight over the ten weeks

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

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 were 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, European 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?   Some parts of the EV6 were really crook, some of the forest trails in Switzerland were as appalling as the goat tracks and unmade paths across fields in Eastern Europe

And I never want to see cobblestones ever again, let alone ride on them...

 

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:   Why?

Altho I was part of a seeminly never ending stream of touring cyclists on the EV6, the most common question was Why are you doing this?

Of course the answer was the same, cos it seemed like a good idea at the time...

 

Copyright © 2003 - Grant Walter   Version: 1.0 (September 4 2013)

 

Backgound image: EuroVelo 6 bike path near Ehingen, Germany
Banner image: EV6 sign, Belgrade, Serbia