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Sunderland2Sofra - Crossing Europe by Bike on the EuroVelo Routes

This summer, Ian and Caz embarked on an exciting journey from their hometown Sunderland in the UK to their vacation home location Dalyan, in Turkey. Read more about their adventures and experiences in this article.

10 Years ago at the height of the property boom, we were in the lucky position to be able to finance a holiday home in Dalyan, Turkey.  At the time, we were both keen cyclists but we also had another bad habit – smoking.  Ever since our Dalyan home was completed, we had always dreamed of one day cycling from England to Turkey, but never thought we would have the time, the money or the lung capacity to do it.

 

Two years ago, we finally kicked the habit and our journey back to fitness started.  We were also lucky to have a fantastic manager in place in our bike shop in Sunderland, Chris, who could “hold the fort” while we gave it our best shot.  Having seen a lot of friends and family over the years either beat or lose out to “the big C”, we decided that we couldn’t attempt this without trying to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Care who do such a marvellous job ensuring no-one faces cancer alone.

Ian spent months, well actually years, pouring over possible routes while we dreamed about doing this. Then he found the Euro Velo site, joined it and got the maps and started pouring over them to try to find the best route. 

With the help of an app called Bike Maps we then very easily worked out a route from getting off the ferry in Amsterdam to join the Eurovelo 15 route along the Rhine to Basel.The route along the Rhine was well established (and fairly flat) so we felt quite confident for this part.Especially as Caz had looked at the map of the world and decided it was all downhill to Turkey  anyway (boy did she find out it was different).

 

We had contacted EuroVelo and been advised that the routes through Eastern Italy and Greece were not well established yet so we had to “wing” these ones to plot onto our Garmins. Basically that meant joining two points together on the map of what we thought were reasonable distances to ride each day and hope they were bike friendly and suitable for touring bikes.

So, we packed up our Giant Toughroad bikes with two panniers on the back each and a bar bag on the front and took our two mascots, Trev and Marge with us along with a spoon from Ian’s parents inscribed with “follow your dreams” and hopped onto a ferry from North Shields to Amsterdam.We had no idea where we would be staying apart from an airbnb in Ede on the first night and hoped we would hit lucky every day as we had decided that we couldn’t cope with the extra weight (or stress) of camping.  Plus we had decided to write a daily blog to let our sponsors know how we were doing and keep the family back home up to date on our travels.

After initially getting a bit lost and confused when we got off the ferry, we quickly hit the route and were amazed by the fact that Holland (and we were soon to discover Germany, France, Swizerland and Italy) all give priority to cyclist. On our first day we saw hundreds of cyclists, shed life by little canals, llamas, children playing in streams and a couple of windmills. We quickly realised that we would not be able to do the 80-100 miles we thought we would do every day as we hadn’t factored in the weight of the bikes with the bags on them (Caz couldn’t lift hers) or that we were not on electric power assist bikes, which a lot of people seemed to have opted for – they are a really good idea if you are not as fit as you were, or need to get fit!

On our second day heading to the Rhine was fabulous, we rode along what we can only describe as cycle super highways through fabulous woodland until we came to Arnhem and got our first view of the Rhine and EuroVelo route 15 to Dusseldorf. Our travels along the Rhine took us through some fabulous places Xanten, Dormagen Cologne, Bonn (which we consider to be one of the friendliest places ever – read the blog for details), Koblenz (where en route we managed to lose the Rhine and follow the Mosel instead – it pays to keep an eye out for the signs and not follow other cyclists), Boppard then Oppenheim via a fabulous off-road track.

After a very well deserved rest day we headed for Speyer. Up to now we had been very lucky with the weather but today we were heading into a headwind almost all day.This was broken up by the fact that we ended up crossing into France from Germany without realising it and then back to Germany (again without knowing) and finding a fab little place called the Hotel Blume who for 10 Euros washed and dried most of our kit – bargain!

The next day we had our first encounter with rain but by the time we put our waterproofs on and got Caz back on the bike (she couldn’t get her leg over with them on) it had stopped.By now we were riding along some of the nature reserve areas of the Rhine.  These were the highlight of our journey, we saw eagles, herons, bluebirds, deer and so much more flora and fauna, it is almost impossible to list.

We followed the Rhine along the Eurovelo route but instead of going into Strasbourg we stayed on the German side and followed the signs all the way along to Basel.  We did toy with the idea of going all the way to the source of the Rhine but then realised we would still have to come back to Basel to get our train to Milan so decided we would leave that to next time. (Yes, there will be a next time as the Rhine route is so fabulous we want to go all down one side and then back up the other).

Although raising money for Macmillan (we are up to about £2,800 now – our target was £3,000) all of the trip was funded by ourselves and we were not expecting the high cost of Swiss living.  So, would recommend anyone bear this in mind if you decide to do this section.  However, the rewards are enormous as Basel is a vibrant, beautiful place.

From Basel we caught a train to Milan (as we didn’t want to negotiate the alps with the heavy bikes).This was fairly straight forward with the bikes and we had been advised to take another train to get us out of the centre of Milan.(That is a tale and a half, read the blog if you want more details!)

Italy turned out to be more cycle friendly than we realised with loads of cycle routes and fabulous places to stay. We would highly recommend looking into both airbnb if you don’t want to camp and also Agri Tourismo which are farm house with b&b rooms.  Both of the ones we stayed at were not offering evening meals but arranged for us to be dropped off and picked up from local restaurants. Another highlight was Castel Maggiore where our host really went out of her way to be helpful and our rooms were so incredible, with Michelangelo type ceilings.


From Italy we got a ferry to Greece and this is where it got a lot tougher for us. Partly because they were building a new motorway on top of what used to be the cycle route and the fact that we finally hit some big hills.  Add that to tiredness from almost non stop cycling every day and even the little things seem worse than they are. 

Our first stop over in Greece though was superb (apart from the mosquitos) but our last one on the mainland not as nice although with hindsight it probably wasn’t as bad as we thought. From there we got another ferry across to Rhodes and after a day’s sightseeing across Rhodes town, got the little ferry across to Marmaris.

Anyone thinking of following our journey should be prepared for the last bit. After staying overnight in Marmaris we headed off towards our little home in Dalyan.  Boy oh boy was that a climb – 4.2 miles of it, followed by another mile or so 10% climb on the main road. Factor that in with 46.5 degree heat and it is a killer. But, we made it, melting roads and all to a fantastic welcome at the Sofra Bar, in fact a fabulous welcome all over Dalyan.

Would we do it again – after a week’s rest, we would both say yes – but not with the Marmaris climb, we would get here via a different route through Turkey.  With regard to the EuroVelo routes through Holland, Germany, Switzerland and France, we cannot wait to do it again as we had the time of our lives and would recommend it to anyone and everyone.

Ps It’s not too late to donate to help us reach our target, the link to our just giving page is on our blog!