Thursday, 23 August 2007

Mexico City

Due to a ticketing error (Roger forgetting to get our tickets reissued) we had an unexpected day in Madrid on our way to Mexico. We wandered around the city taking in the sights and catching up on sleep in the central park before dining on genuine paella.

In Mexico City we stayed with the parents of one of Luisa´s school friends. Maru and Hector were extremely hospitable to us for the next four days, taking us out for meals and sharing their house with us. Their pets were also very hospitable, being happy to play with us often.

Roger and friend

Breakfast with Peporra

Mexico City is a diverse place. We were lucky enough to stay near the more affluent colonial suburbs where foreigners and armed security guards are commonplace. But the largest city in the world is surrounded by slums which we only saw from a bus on the highway.

Street art, Coyoacan

We took a trip out to the ruins of Teotihuacan, the former capital of the region before even the Aztecs arrived. This was the centre of a civilisation that died out for unexplained reasons around 800AD. Despite being supposedly fit from cycling, we still found it difficult climbing pyramids at altitude!

Teotihuacan pyramids

Friday, 17 August 2007


Our friend Tarrin had emailed around to see whether anyone wanted to accompany him on a walk in Iceland. Initially we dismissed this as an expensive and unnecessary diversion from our plans. But then we realised that it was a great opportunity and that the timing worked quite well. So we reorganised flights and met Tarrin in the Reykjavik campsite (everything else was booked out) on a chilly summer´s night.

We had taken a photo from the plane of two glaciers, not realising that we were about to ascend the pass between them!


We spent a day in Reykjavik buying dried fish and other supplies and wandering around town, meeting up in the evening with one of Luisa´s school friends, Arend. The next day we boarded a bus to Landmannalauger, a region known for it´s volcanic activity.

Roger juggling volcanic rocks

The walk started positively with a dip in a thermal pool.

Roger and Tarrin in thermal pool at Landmannalauger

From there we ascended through a recently formed lava field (multiple eruptions in the 1970s and 1990s) into a stark alpine environment. The colours were amazing. The mountains varied from the usual black to green, orange, red, yellow, brown and blue. The area is still quite volcanic and we passed many bubbling, smelly holes in the ground. Unfortunately, none of these were associated with springs deep enough to swim in.

The start of the walk

Coloured soils

Avoiding a steaming geyser

We climbed up and up, crossing small snow patches on our way to a hut. We camped next to the hut in blustery conditions. The next day we traversed a similar landscape but were in cloud for the whole day so didn't see much. We descended to a lake where the wind and rain was howling in from the east. Our cheap KMart tent wasn't up to the conditions so we all huddled in Tarrin's expensive Swedish tent. A quick survey of the campsite revealed that half the tents weren't handling the wind either, even some of the more expensive models. We may have been some of the only dry campers that night.

The next day was easy apart from a few river crossings. These were mostly only knee deep but the water comes directly from the nearby glacier so it's very painful. We passed through a black sandy valley with tall mountain formations on every side and glimpses of glacier in the background. Tarrin was especially keen on a big, green mountain with an Icelandic name that translates to "Big Green Mountain". That night we had a more sheltered campsite and were able to pitch both tents, albeit carefully.

One of the many gullies we traversed

Crossing a river of glacier-melt

Another easy day had us approaching one of Icaland´s only forests! Forests are rare in Iceland and the stunted birch trees weren't much taller than us. But it was good to have a change of landscape. There is a popular hut and a tourist bus to this region, Þórsmörk, and we had a pleasant afternoon lazing in the sun when it came out briefly.

The river near the hut is treacherous and they have a photo album full of 4WDs and buses that have been washed away in the currents. There was one unfortunate 4WD drying out while we were there! Normally there's a footbridge across but it had washed away too. Luckily the hut had a tractor that was happy to ferry us across in a trailer. We then began a climb up a steep ridge to the pass between the glaciers we had seen from the aeroplane.

A sunny day at Þórsmörk, glacier in background


Melting glaciers

We had great weather on the way up the ridge and marvelled at the waterfalls coming off the glaciers. We walked along some knife-edge sections with fantastic views to the valleys on both sides. We pitched Tarrin's tent at the top and watched the wind and mist race over the top of it with a glacier in the background. The last day had us descending to the coast next to a moss covered gorge a string of beautiful waterfalls. We gave up photographing them after the first ten or so, especially as the rain set in. For the last hour as we trudged, soaked, down to the coastal road with the final and most spectacular waterfall at the end of the walk.

High camp on the pass!

We bussed back to Reykjavik and settled in to a local pizza place for dinner. Iceland makes London look cheap, with pizzas costing A$40. We tried to figure out why the economy is so strong but didn't come up with anything conclusive. Perhaps it's the fishing trade or maybe the cheap geothermal power. Maybe we'll find out next time.


We returned to England for a few days, staying with Luisa´s friends Richard and Birgit in Newmarket, Suffolk. Some of the locals haven´t made it past the steam era:


Rather than continuing with our original trip plans we now had to pack and organise for a unexpected side trip...

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Czech Republic

Crossing the border into Czech Republic we were surprised to find ourselves in Little Vietnam. The border gap contained a little village where you could buy all sorts of fake brand name clothing and trinkets. More importantly though, we found a good phở soup and friendly locals. A little further on we found a series of outlet shops and casinos that built like castles, aeroplanes and other crazy constructions. It seems that there is a lot of money in duty free fakes.

Little Vietnam on the Austria/Czech border

Outlet shopping, Czech style

We entered the small city of Znojmo not knowing what to expect. We found a castle, monasteries, beautiful pensions and a brewery. What a great city! We stayed at a ¨Cyclo Pension¨and enjoyed good views of the river and castle.

Znojmo views

We obtained good maps and followed the Greenways Prague to Vienna cycle route backwards through farmland and forest. Along the way we passed the only remaining part of the Iron Curtain, a physical fence and border gap separating eastern and western Europe during the Cold War.

Iron Curtain

We also got to look back into Austria, down to the oddly-named town of Hardegg.


We cycled down into a river valley at Vranov nad Djyi and then back up the next day to catch a train. The Greenways route was hillier and slower than we expected so we fast-tracked by train to Jindřichův Hradec, another great town with a castle on the river.

Vranov nad Dyji Castle

A red castle

Along the way, in a town called Sedlčany, we met Kyle, a fellow Australian from Dayboro/Albany Creek. He and Roger shared stories of growing up in Brisbane´s north as we relaxed in the backyard of a pension. Kyle's blog makes a good read too.

We cycled into Prague with mixed feelings. While it was good to be finishing our cycling leg of the trip, it was also sad to leave the bikes. We managed to sell them within a few hours of entering the city to a bike rental company. We then had to join the throng of "ordinary" tourists making our way around the busy tourist sites on foot.


Fred and Ginger Dancing building in Prague

Gothic night skyline

Here's a link to the map of our route. We cycled 3600km in just over three months, through ten countries. It wasn't all fun but a great experience. Let us know if you're thinking of doing something similar and want some information.


Austria - our only foray into the "west" - was immediately notable for its immaculate houses and gardens, spotless lodgings and impossibly courteous drivers. At times we even had to encourage cars to overtake us! There were many cycle tourists, some in supported groups, on our route which was largely on a dedicated path. The weather was starting to cool and it was no longer 38 degrees in Vienna. The Danube was even starting to look a lighter shade of brown so we took the opportunity to cool down on a pebbly beach one evening.

Excellent signage

With only four days in Austria (and not really planning to go there) there was little chance to learn German. Instead we amused ourselves by finding funny place names on the map like Windpassing, Badgasse and Lusthaus.

The route followed a dyke along the Danube which was quite monotonous until we got lost on a long and heavily populated stretch of nudist beach just out of Vienna. Not knowing which way to go (or look) Roger approached a nudist-cafe and some friendly gents pointed us in the right direction. Even though there was only one dedicated nudist beach it was generally acceptable to be nude anywhere within view of water be it the Danube, a pond or whatever.

Horses and cart, Viennese style

North of Vienna we were glad to find a campground to ease the strain on our budget. This time all the swimming spots were taken and there was a water park with loud electronic music focused around a murky pond-like Danube offshoot. After this we left the Danube and spent two days cycling through hills of vineyards and fields of corn and wheat to the Czech border. We were lucky to have a day of strong tailwind to propel us because even though rolling hills look benign it is more tiring to go up and down relatively small hills than to do a single big uphill. Some rain clouds threatened, reminding us that we hadn't had any serious rain - that interferes with cycling - for weeks.

Note the tail wind!

Even the electricity towers were picturesque in Austria

Windfarms were a frequent sight

Luisa and view to the Czech Republic


Approaching Bratislava we were happy to see not one but TWO bike lanes AND a roller blade lane! The heat had the Slovakians riding and skating around in their underwear in true European style, leaving us to ponder whether they left their inner city flats half dressed or stripped off along the way.

Bratislava itself was unimpressive architecturally (by European standards). There are many concrete commuinist style blocks and parts of the old town and city wall were decimated to make way for this:

Novy Mesto (new bridge)

Despite the good cycle paths leading to Bratislava we managed to get lost on the way out of town. It was only a few kilometres to the Austrian border and then a route with frequent signage throughout the small eastern chunk of Austria we traversed.

Sovakian-Austrian border Bratislava Castle in the background, hitchhiker and border guard