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Euro Bike Trip – Letters From The Road

The last blog post I wrote mentioned that I was going to spend the summer on a bike trip through the Czech Republic, Germany, and Poland with a good friend of mine. Well that trip ended a while ago and I’ve been back in Austin since October….but it doesn’t feel right moving on to write about other things until I’ve done a post wrapping up the trip.

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I’m sure I’ll dedicate more posts to bicycle touring in the future and will elaborate more on specific trips I’ve taken, advice for other bicycle tourists, and things I’d do differently next time. Stay tuned for that, but for now…I have consolidated all the e-mails and notes I took during our trip and will share them in a 2-part blog post.

This first part, “Letters from the Road”, is a chronological collection of e-mails we sent to family and friends while away.

The second part (which will appear in a later post), will be called “Notes from the Road” and will be a chronological collection of cryptic notes I wrote to document each day of our travels.

Obviously a lot of details and stories will be left out of these letters and notes, but I think they’ll be an amusing summary of our experiences. Also, here is a link to some pictures. They are unedited and I haven’t written descriptions for any of them yet,  but feel free to browse at your leisure.

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8/15/11

Hi family.

I just wanted to let you know that I’m alive and well.

I am staying with my friend Jan, who I met on a hiking trip in New Zealand. He has been really great to me. Picked me up from the airport, helped me carry my bike box up several flights of stairs to his apartment, showed me around downtown, took me to a veg place to eat, gave me an extra phone he had so that I can get in contact with him if I need help while in Prague, my own set of keys so that I don’t have to depend on him, and he and his girlfriend chatted with me over several glasses of wine last night. I found a really cool veg. restaurant/health food store called Country Life (dumb name, good food) and plan to make them dinner sometime this week.

Agnes and her mom should be coming in on a train tonight, so I will hopefully meet up with them tonight or tomorrow. They’re staying in a hostel, but I think I’ll just keep staying with Jan since he already offered and I have my own room and bed. He lives a little outside the city center, but public transport here is great!

My bike box arrived at the airport pretty disheveled and missing 2 out of the 3 straps!! It looks like TSA opened it AGAIN after someone inspected it at the airport in Austin (I watched the Austin TSA lady open it, take everything out, inspect everything, put it back nicely, then strap it back securely). The second person who inspected everything must not have been so nice and nothing was put back where it was supposed to go!! My bike seems to be OK and nothing is missing except the straps I used to hold the box together…but I guess I won’t know until I start to ride it. Once I pump up my tires, I’m going to take it to a bike shop to get it checked out. But I don’t want to fly with Delta ever again if I can avoid it.

Prague is beautiful. I walked around all day yesterday, took a nap in the park for about 3 hours, then walked around some more. Today it’s raining. But I have a raincoat, a vegan croissant, some vegan tofu scramble stuff from the bio shop, water, and camera. So…I’m ready to walk. I still need a map, but luckily I don’t mind getting lost until I find a good one.

Will write more soon.

-Cristen

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8/17/11

Hi family.

Prague is a beautiful city.

I met up with Agnes and her mom the other day (they took a train in from Krakow).

During the day, I went to Letna Park (the place where they used to have the Stalin Monument). Now there’s a big metronome in its place and lots of cool skate spots. And last night we all went out to eat at a fancy veg. restaurant called Lehka Hlava (or “Clear Head”). Aga’s mom took the tram back home afterwards, but Agnes and I went to a show at a really cool bar. Her friend met up with us and we all stayed out really late drinking and dancing – too late for me to catch the bus back to my place, so I stayed with her friend. Now he’s at work and I’m not exactly sure where I am….but I have keys and a map, so I’ll figure it out. First thing though, I have to find some coffee. Then I want to go to a park that has albino peacocks and weird rock formations.

Aga’s mom will be here until Friday, so we’ll probably spend a few days getting organized before we head off on our journey.

Love you all and will check in again soon.

-Cristen

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8/22/11

hi moms. we are messaging you from my kindle which is really
difficult. just wanted to say that we are off on our trip. we plan to
bike up the river to dresden, with some stops along the way. we are
guessing this will take 1week so you might not hear from us for a bit.

here are our emergenc phones, but know that they will be off unless we
need them.

and now you have each other’s emails too.

we love you and goodbye

cristen and aga

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8/27/2011

Hi family.

So we finally made it from Prague to Dresden.
Despite a few stupid times where we got a bit lost from the bike path and biked with all our gear UPHILL for no good reason other than to torture ourselves…the trip was fairly painless and great fun.
The path was along the river the entire time, so has been pretty easy and really beautiful. We managed to camp for free every night except for 1 night when we stayed at a hostel owned by a cute Ukranian lady who took great care of us.

The weather here has been awesome up until today when it started to rain and get really dreary. But at least we managed to test out our rain gear. I an A+ to the rain pants.

Now we are staying in an amazing farm house in a village called Pokau. We took the train here from Dresden to visit my friend Anne (who I met in Oslo) and her family. Tomorrow we will hang out in Dresden, camp in her family friend´s garden, and then the next day we are off again. It will probably take us another week or maybe a bit longer to make it to Berlin. We haven’t looked at a map yet so aren’t really sure…

This is the first time I’ve had Internet access and probably won’t again for a bit. But I just wanted to let you know that we’re alive and well. And if you don’t hear from me again for a while, it’s just because we’re biking and camping and without a computer.

Hope all is well at home. I’ll try to send some rain your way (because you need it more than we do and we don’t want it here).
J

Oh and p.s….my Kindle broke on day 1. All the bumps screwed up my LCD screen.
Bummer. But I guess a good lesson that you can’t depend too much on technology. Time to get a real map and a good old fashioned book.
:(

-Cristen

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8/28/2011

Hi love.

You know its a good day when you’re cycling along the Czech Republic/Germany border through a Vietnamese market, you find matching wolf crotch shorts, then get to have a photo session in a cave.

Have a good day!

-Cristen

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8/28/2011

hey lady!
we made it to dresden yesterday after leaving prague on monday evening, so about 5-6 days of riding. if the weather holds up, and we make good time, and we don’t run into any major bike issues or get lost (we’ve been good at that), or get stunted by our approaching periods, we should be in berlin 6-7 days from tomorrow/monday.
it’s been fun… i’ve got butt rash/chafage out the wazoo (for seriously… get at least 2-3 pairs of good padded bike shorts), but hey, it’s all a part of the game, right? so far we’ve managed to camp for free every night except when we stayed at a ‘pension’ on the border so we could hike around for a day. been eating off the camping stove as much as possible and making about two beer stops, which seems to fuel our fire best of all. we’ve been jumping in the river to shower on hot days and doing our laundry there too. we’re only gonna be on the river for half of the trip to berlin though… so we’ll probably arrive REAL smelly. and me, with more chafing.
how are things on your end?? feel free to send my cz number an sms with any updates, but know it may take a few days to get a response. we usually have our phones off but turn them on every few days to check on updates… and can respond if/when there is reception in the area. i don’t foresee any internet stops on the way.
hope all is well with you!
liebe gruesse,
aga

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9/3/11

Hey family.
We just made it into Berlin today. Despite a few stops along the way, we managed to cycle about 60 to 70 km a day, making it to Berlin a few days earlier than expected. We’re still slow (which is fine with us), but I think we’re getting better.

We have found some fun places to sleep along the way too, including a cool house in the woods made of sticks and moss. Lots of stories, but I’ll save those for later. Aga’s butt started hurting really bad today and so she took the metro into town. I continued cycling along the Berliner Mauerweg (a really cool bike trail that goes along where the Berlin Wall used to be). I didn’t think it would take so long to get into town that way, but the path took all day and I only had a few photos of the route that I took with my camera…so not the best map. I got lost a few times, got a bent spoke, and had all kinds of funny people trying to help by guiding me in the right direction, drawing maps in the sand, and some cute lady just hopped on her bike – huffing and puffing to get me to the trailhead. It was an adventure for sure and much more difficult (but interesting) getting around without having Aga there to speak German. Anyway…I made it. And just in time to eat vegan African food along the river, have a few cold beers, meet up with Aga, AND find a free place to stay tonight with some really sweet girls in a nice part of Berlin. Good day.

I haven’t managed to find much time to upload pictures…but there are tons that I’ll have to post eventually (though maybe not until I’m back home).
:(

We should be in Berlin for at least a few days. I really like this city so far!!

Cristen

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9/8/11

Hey family.

Agnes and I were wandering around town today, went to a cool art commune place in a crumbling old building, and some guy was talking about the fires in Texas. We had no idea, so I just checked the news at this Internet cafe. Crazy! Glad there’s no danger near you.

It has gotten cold here already. I’m already wearing most of the layers I brought and will probably have to acquire a few more (like possibly some really colorful, loud tights).

Life is pretty comfortable in Berlin and if we stay until Saturday (which I think is the plan), we’ll have been here a week. It’s 200 km from Berlin to our next stop, Szczecin, so we’re guessing it’ll take 4 days (5 or 6 if we leave a few buffer days for relaxing, bike issues, weather issues). From there we’ll cycle along the Eurovelo (a marked cycling path along the Baltic Sea). We’ll only have a month to see all of Poland…so we’ll likely be taking some trains sometimes so that we can get to places faster. I probably won’t send another e-mail before we leave on Saturday, but just know that we’re doing fine and will send another update in a week or so.

I have some sort of pinched nerve in my back and it hurts really bad today. Just started sometime last night and it woke me up because I couldn’t figure out a comfortable way to sleep. It’s not any better today, so I’m not sure what to do about it other than to take some ibuprofin and try not to put too much stuff in my backpack when we walk around all day. Surprisingly, biking doesn’t seem to make it any worse…so that’s good at least.

Yesterday we rode out of town with Yvonne, our Couchsurfing host who has been taking great care of us while we’re here. We biked along a trail through the woods to a big lake, collected an entire bag’s worth of wild mushrooms, and made a meal out of them when we got back to the house. Today I went to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum and ate some really great vegan German food.

We have been seeing some beautiful places. Not sure what the roads will be like in Poland, but whatever happens will be interesting. And Berlin is a great city. Lots of veg food and an overwhelming bike culture (bikes even have their own traffic lights!)

Miguel – I’ll be sending a package to our house in a few days. Not sure when you’ll actually get it, but some of the stuff in there is for your birthday. It’s kind of a weird collection of things, but I think you’d expect that coming from me. :)

Cristen

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9/14/11

Hi love.

Happy birthday! I wish I could spend today with you, but instead we’re spending the morning pushing my bike through construction zones, sand pits, and mud. Hope the roads get better than this. And I hope you have a great day.

I love you.

-Cristen

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9/15/11

Hey family.

So…We finally made it to Poland yesterday. We’re in Szczecin right now, but will probably take the fast boat up to the Baltic Sea to save time (assuming it’s still operating this time of year), then cycle along the sea for a few weeks since they actually have bike paths there. You may not hear from me again until we get to Gdansk, which I think is about 200km away (and since we go slow, that’ll take us a while).

When we first arrived in Poland, we detoured to see the crooked forest, then back into the town of Gryfino. And along the way back into the city, we met a cute lady who invited us for tea, several shots of homemade liquor, some chocolate, apples, etc. Then she sent us away with jars of pickles, jam, homemade berry juice, and crocheted Christmas ornaments. haha. So now our bags are really heavy, but a good intro to Poland. The Couchsurfing host we stayed with last night is a bike messenger and a vegan.
:)

OK. Gotta run.
-Cristen

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9/17/2011

Hi Adlucites.

I just wanted to say hello and to send an update from the road.
I sent a postcard from Berlin, but it probably hasn’t arrived yet.

We’ve cycled almost 1000 km so far and have made it from Prague > Dresden > Berlin > Szczecin. The path through Germany along the Oder River has been beautiful and scenic. No cars – just lots of sheep and birds. I even saw a few otters or beavers (not sure which because it was far away). Many adventures to talk about – such as wandering up on a volunteer fire brigade party in the small town of Obersdorf, partying and dancing under a big tent with everyone during a crazy lighting storm (I took shots with the mayor and the fire chief!), and then we got adopted by some townspeople for the night). I didn’t expect to like Germany so much, but I really really did.

We finally made it to Poland a few days ago and (as expected) the roads and cycling trails are drastically different. Now we’re cycling along the Baltic Sea, but have lost sight of the bike path and are doing some research before we continue (muddy/sandy side roads + busy main roads with no shoulder + no bike map = no fun).

Every day has been interesting and up until now, the bike path has been along rivers and pretty forest trails. We’ve managed to camp for free most nights by just pitching our tents wherever we end up, but sometimes we’ve splurged on proper campsites or rental rooms with showers or stayed with Couchsurfing hosts.

Hope all is well back home.
If I make it out of Poland alive (just kidding…kind of), I will see you guys at the end of October.
:)

-Cristen

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9/19/11

Hi mom.
Just a note to say that we’re alive and well. We knocked on the door of a cute family to ask if we could camp in their yard and we’re at their house now having tea.
Not sure when I’ll have Internet again in the next few weeks, but will msg again when I do.

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9/24/11

Hey family

We’re still on the Baltic Sea. Still riding our bikes for 3-5 hours every day and going 30-70 km a day (depending on weather, errand stops, getting lost, etc.) And still collecting weird things we don’t need that only make our loads heavier (only we’ve gotten used to it at this point and have stopped caring about the extra weight).

We’ve had amazing luck so far with our bikes even though we have put the poor things through hell. Our little road bikes are definitely not meant for this trip and people sometimes give us funny looks as we pass by and they stare at our heavily loaded bikes with skinny tires. Our bikes hate cobblestone streets, potholes, and definitely SAND and grit (all of which are very common on Polish roads)…but the poor things are still trudging along. We finally had to stop at a bike shop to fix my wobbly back wheel, Aga’s brakes, and my bike rack attachment (that had broken about 200 km before we got to the shop and I had to rig it up to my bike all ghetto style with parachute cord and zip ties). We took a day off yesterday because of downpours of rain and stayed in a cozy guesthouse in Choczewo, where we played bananagrams, cooked lots of food in a real kitchen where we could use more than one pan at a time, and drank hot tea with vodka.

The plan was to cycle all the way to Hel (you can find it on a map) and then take a ferry to Gdansk….but we found out that since most tourists aren’t crazy enough to visit the Baltic Coast in September, the ferries have stopped running. So…we are now in Sopot and trying to figure out what our next steps will be.

Again, not sure when I’ll have Internet access again…but I’ll write again when I can.

-Cristen

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9/27/11

Hey love.

Aga keeps getting to talk to Bryce on Skype and I get jealous because I’d LOVE to talk to you and see your face. We may be going to Warsaw next weekend to hang out with Kasia, so if that all works out…maybe we’ll have Internet access there and I can talk to you more. Regardless…I love you lots and will see you soonish.

Last night we ate an amazing risotto meal that our hosts made us. Today it’s our turn to cook (as we decided to stay with them another night). Not sure what to make yet, but I think it’ll involve guacamole if we can find avocados. They don’t really have cilantro here either though.

Yesterday we all biked to this amazing viewpoint in the city that was somewhere in the forest (it was pretty dark). Our hosts Szymon and Monika are super cute. They take pictures of their food every night like I do, they geek out over all the macro plant photos they took last when they were mushroom picking last weekend, and they’re vegetarian. On the way back from the forest viewpoint, we found a hedgehog (they have them everywhere, but the only ones I’ve seen so far are dead in the road). This one was blind in one eye and seemed really old. He was just wobbling around in the middle of the road. Aga blocked traffic and I picked him up to carry him back into the forest. Poor little guy. Hope we saved him from death at least a little while longer.

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9/28/11

Hi family.

Agnes and I just spent a great few days with Szymon and Monika, our Couchsurfing hosts in Gdansk (a great city and probably one of most bike-friendly places in Poland).

We just took a train to Masuria, which is supposed to be a beautiful region in the northeast of Poland that is dotted with lakes (look it up – it’s nice!). Kasia and one of Aga’s friends may meet up with us while we’re here. Then next week, we’ll be taking a train to the Bialowieza Forest, which Aga is writing her thesis on. Probably won’t have Internet for a while again. Wish us luck with the weather.

-Cristen

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10/6/11

Hey family

Aga and I are in the forest bordering Belarus. We’re staying in a dorm at a science research center, where we have our own kitchen, warm beds, and the hottest shower I’ve had in weeks (actually the only shower I’ve had in about a week).

We had a ridiculous time getting here: helping each other push all our stuff up and down huge flights of stairs at the train station, shoving all our belongings and bikes onto a bus packed full of people (crazy bag lady style – it’s how we roll)…followed by several other amusing incidents, followed by a 20km bike ride into the forest through drizzling rain. All funny stories though.

And now that we want to visit Kasia in Warsaw tomorrow night (hopefully), we are now going to have an equally ridiculous time trying to get out of here and onto a train/bus that’ll take us into the city.

We saw 4 baby puppies in the forest yesterday and it turns out they might have been wolf pups. I showed my photo to an ecologist guy that Aga knew and we’ll find out more about them later today after he shows my pic to some friends. If they’re puppies…we’re going to try to find them a better place to be. And if they’re wolf pups…yay – we saw baby wolves! I almost picked one up until he growled really ferociously at me.

I’ll probably have Internet access in Warsaw…assuming we can get there from here.

Hope all is well back home. Miguel told me it finally rained. Hope that theme continues.

I uploaded some pics, but it’s only a small fraction of the ones I’ve taken and they are all only from the Czech Republic.

-Cristen

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10/7/11

OK. We made it to Warsaw. Whew!

Our options were basically –

1.) Take the only bus (that leaves at 5am) from the forest to Warsaw. Plead with the bus driver to take us, our bikes, and all our stuff (we’re a mess).

2.) Bike 20km and take 4 trains (with a 4 minute layover between each). Not likely we’d make all connections with all the crap we have with us.

3.) Bike 50km on sandy, forest roads and try to make it to the train station by 2pm, take 3 trains to Warsaw and arrive really late at night.

Luckily option 1 worked out, so we didn’t have to deal with attempting the other two options…which would have been a huge headache.

Now we’re in Warsaw really early, and we’re just going to find somewhere warm and dry to hang out until Kasia gets off work.

Love you guys!

-Cristen

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10/11/11

Hey love.

We had a few fun filled days in Warsaw with Kasia (which mostly involved us hanging out in her bed, taking vodka shots, and telling stories). It was great and exactly what we wanted to do.

We made it to Krakow yesterday and, as part of the Unsound Festival, saw “The Man Who Saved the World”, a Turkish rip off of Star Wars that had the Indiana Jones theme song and enough crazy costumes for at least 10 years of Halloweens. It definitely helped that we drank beforehand, but I thought the movie was pretty awesome (in a horribly low budget kind of way). We made popcorn with nutritional yeast to bring with us and Aga and I already have our costumes planned out if we ever want to have a theme party based around the movie.

Tonight at midnight we’re going to see a movie called “The Earth Dies Screaming”, described as ‘a low budget sci-fi wonder, set in a world invaded by deadly alien killer robots.’ Maybe you’ve seen it? If not, I’ll fill you in on the details when I get home. I’m sure it’s riveting.

Anyway, I just wanted to say hi and that I miss you (duh!). Biking for many hours on end give me lots of time every day to think about how I miss you.

See you soon! In less than 10 days!!

-Cristen

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10/15/11

Hey Dad. I was just thinking that I should e-mail you.

I’m in Krakow now with Aga. We’re staying at her friend’s house and there’s a music festival going on.

I went to see the Salt Mines, Schinder’s Factory, and we biked along the river to a monestary that brews its own beer. There’s a lot of history here and it’s fun to have a bike with me so that I can just ride around and get to places easily.

Hope all is well at home. I’m excited to see you guys and I’m ready to go home at this point. It’s cold here.

-Cristen

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10/18/11

Hi mom.

After a 5 hr bus ride, a short bike ride across the border, and a 5 hr train ride…we made it from Krakow back to Prague last night. It was a long day!

Tonight I am making spring rolls, some sort of stir fry, and miso soup for my friend Jan. Tomorrow we will pack and box up our bikes. I get on a plane on Thurs the 20th and don’t get to Austin until midnight.

I’m excited to drink coffee and hang out with you all. Maybe we can do that Saturday or Sunday.

Talk to you soon. Love you.

– Cristen

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2 Comments

  1. What an amazing trip! I love the matching wolf pants the most!

  1. Euro Bike Trip – Notes From The Road | Circle Our Earth

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