While cycle touring, one thing on the mind everyday if you are not cycling with lots of surplus cash or massive amount of pre-planning is the question of where you will be sleeping each night. I did a little bit of pre-planning for my trip but not enough to have every night completely sealed and free of an element of concern, therefore I ended up in a different types of accommodation. These brought different surroundings at different times on my trip, each which brought about its own feelings towards the different elements that go together to form a good place to stay, a comfortable nights sleep and ultimately a good experience of that specific place. In this blog I will be discussing each night of my trip and what specific thing that stay taught me about travel, about the world, about myself, or about others. Apart from my two days off in this section of the trip, I was only staying in each city/town/location for one night, therefore where I slept contributed to a large part of my time there.
In this blog I will look at the first 14 days of my trip in which I cycled everyday apart from 2 and had some brilliant and unique nights and only really one that was not so favourable. Firstly below there is map of my first two weeks, there are 13 points plotted, 12 are different locations (two, which I stayed at for two nights – Luxembourg City and Zurich) and 1 point for London which is where I stayed the last night prior to departure. And as all good journey accounts, I will start and the beginning and finish with an open ending….
As I said, have incorporated my stay in London, the night before the start of the trip as I feel it was a valuable part of the experience, my only relevant night in England and is a good point of reference for the rest of the trip.
The blog will also need a key: L = LOCATION, T = TYPE OF ACCOMMODATION, F = THREE WORD OVERRIDING FEELING / TALKING POINT.
Night 0 – L : The Threadneedles Hotel, Threadneedle Street, London, England… T : 5* Hotel… F : A GOOD START. Prior to departure I wanted to spend quality time with the people I would miss most and to give myself the best chance of a good start with a really comfortable nights sleep as I knew that I would be heading for more lonely and less relaxing ones on my way to Italy. We spent the night in absolute luxury, and had everything you could ever want from a hotel for a good nights sleep and a comfortable departure. The last In-room mini-bar and his and hers bathrobes I would be seeing put it that way.
Night 1 – L = Arneke, France. T : Warm Showers Host … F: WARM SHOWERS INTRODUCTION. The main thing to note about my first night in mainland Europe was that it was my first night ever alone abroad, my first night ever being hosted by strangers and my first experience of the power of the Warm Showers network. Warm Showers is a website where you offer your house as a place to stay for travelling cyclists, this is done out of kindness coupled with the hope that one day you will be able to take advantage of that same benevolence from somebody else when on your own travels. This is built upon a feedback principle where you let the site know how you found staying with the people in question. My first night was with Lucille and Julien in Arneke and was a good way to start my experiences sleeping abroad as they lived a very different life to me treating me to a mattress in the spare bedroom and fresh green bean soup made from the vegetables in the garden as we talked about our approaches to cycle touring and music.
Night 2 – L = Bernissart, Belgium. T : Camping… F: BAD WEATHER CAMPING. The weather is a factor, if not the biggest on a comfortable night when camping alone. On arrival at my campsite in belgium which I had found on the internet the night before, the weather was at best uncomfortable. It was to be my first night of camping alone outside england and was going to be a wet one. The rain felt like rather than falling, was being poured and as we know the mere suggestion of rain when putting up or packing away a tent is met with a painful grimace. Luckily everyone else was in caravans therefore there was a space underneath quite a large tree where I could just be dripped on rather than in the shower. I was signposted to this by the very helpful ranger who when arrived was sat watching TV in his caravan rather than manning reception as only the absolute desperate would be looking to camp in this weather at this time on a tuesday. He put on his coat and ran across to take my booking. I set up the tent as it got dark, went to the local pub for a belgian beer, fell asleep listening to the rain and then packed away onto my bike and left early in the morning.
Night 3 – L = Charleville-Mezieres, France. T : Warm Showers Host… F: SELFLESS FELLOW CYCLISTS. So following a wet night in Belgium, I was looking forward to at least having a roof over my head and a shower in Charleville, this came courtesy of Vincent Maurice whom I sent a message to, more in hope than anything else, the day before while camping in the rain. He answered on the morning of the stay to say ‘Hi Craig, Yes you can stay at my place tonight, no problem. I finish working around 6 pm, so we can meet from that time’ and it was as simple as that, its amazing to me that a complete stranger could be that accommodating to someone that they had never met before and that was just the start. He sent me his number, so when I arrived at his address, I rang him and he was down the road with his bike picking up his washing from the laundrette. It is always a nervy time seeing your host for the first time because of the anxiety of what how you may act towards someone offering you help if you don’t like the look of them or feel uncomfortable. Anyway Vincent had an immediately disarming personality, partly due to his comedic, very small, very round, John Lennon style glasses and french beard (he later actually turned out to be a Beatles fan) and partly the fact he had just just picked up a nice clean set of towels. We went back to his apartment, he showed me the space on the bedroom floor that I would be sleeping on, gave me a camping mat and we went out for food. We went to the local pizza place and I thought the least I could do was pay for his food but he was quick to inform me that when you are hosting them, you are the one to show the kindness and quickly paid for mine, which is an easier battle to lose when only one of you speaks the language of the lady in charge of the till. We then spoke about and listened to music for a few hours and went to bed. I came away with a liking for the french band ‘Tetes Raides’. The next morning on his commute to work, I followed him down to the river, we had a photo and he pointed me in the direction of Luxembourg and I was off.
Night 4 and 5 – L = Luxembourg City… T : Camping… F: FRIENDLY GERMAN NEIGHBOURS. I arrived in Luxembourg at the Kockelscheuer camp site and began to set up camp for a two night stay there. I would like to get in at this point that the campsite there is brilliant, it is really big, with very helpful staff and everything you need for a comfortable short or long stay in a beautiful city with a short bus ride to the centre every 10 minutes. Anyway back to pitching up. As soon as I had locked up my bike and started to roll out my tent, I was greeted with a ‘Halo’ and as I turned around I was faced with a large glass of red wine and the smiling face of Sigrid, a headmaster from a high school in Germany who was touring europe with her husband, a retired teacher, Roland. Before I knew it, my tent was left flat, I was a couple of glasses into the wine, had a handful of snacks and was playing ‘Uno’ with the most accommodating German people I had ever met. This perked my mood up so much, I felt like I was really travelling now, meeting new people and really interacting with them. Their hospitality and kindness was something very touching. I stumbled around setting my tent up at around 10pm.
Night 6 – L = Saarbrücken, Germany… T : Camping… F: SAFETY, MIND CHANGE. Sometimes you pull up to where you are going to stay, whether it be a campsite or someones house and think… is it too late to get out of this situation? and could I do it without causing obvious offence, and end up being too polite to follow your best advice and stay anyway. This was one of them occasions at ‘Am Spicherer Berg Campingplatz’ in Saarbruchen. Firstly the cycle through the town gave me a bad feeling, it was very grey and unfriendly and as soon as I saw it, it came across as more of a settlement than a campsite and it became apparent that everyone else actually lived there in their static caravans. I asked the woman about the prices and before I knew it the deal was done. She showed me into the middle of a field that was basically a circle of grass circled by families that lived there, many of which chose to constantly wear no shirt and stare at me like I was from the future. I set up my tent and began to worry for my safety, I asked the woman at the counter who came across very grumpy if I could leave my bike in the building, she showed me into the communal room of the reception, I locked it up and regretted this too as I began to walk away from it. Anyway as the night went on, more visitors came and I ended up moving my tent to next to a couple of motor bikers, we then went and had drinks with the locals who I ended up having a good time with and the receptionist even ended up getting turning out to be one of those people who just looks that why by default but actually likes a bit of charm thrown her way. Never judge a book by its cover, I never usually judge anyone although when you are alone, nearly a thousand miles from home your brains safety alerts just begin to take over.
Night 7 – L = Strasbourg, France… T : Warm Showers Host… F: HOSPITALITY BEYOND WORDS. There is being kind enough to give a traveller somewhere to sleep for the night, there is feeding them and then there is providing an amazing private bedroom to sleep in and having so much trust in a stranger that you will leave to go the airport at 5am and let your guest get up, use your apartment as they please and then let themselves out. This is how I was treated by my Warm Showers host Anke in Strasbourg. From arrival to when I left I was treated as a member of the family in an amazing city centre location. A four course meal, encouragement to treat the place as my own, to come and go as I pleased and a great nights sleep.
Night 8 – L = Basel, Switzerland… T : Warm Showers Host… F: LOCAL KNOWLEDGE / EXPERIENCE. I will be forever thankful to my host Andreas from Basel for one of the top 3 most memorable moments on my trip. following the preparation of my bed and our evening meal, Andreas asked me if I would like to go out and swim in the river and I said I was very tired and may want to relax. He then said ‘you have got to swim in The Rhine while your in Basel’ and I thought what am I thinking, I need to grab every minute of this trip with both hands. He, just like the other hosts was very generous and told me I did not need to take any money out as I was his guest. He paid me on the bus and then we walked to the edge of The Rhine beside the Museum of Contemporary Art, packed our things into waterproof bags, tied them to us and jumped in. The moments that followed as the river took us through the middle of the city with ‘old’ Basel on one side and ‘new’ on the other are the reason I will always be thankful to him. Sometimes you just need someone with the local knowledge both to know the significance of certain local customs and also to know how and where to do it like a local. An experience I will never, ever forget. Alive in a place of pure beauty. We then sat on the side of the river with lots of other people, drink in hand, watching the sunset.
Night 9 and 10 – L = Zurich, Switzerland…. T : Warm Showers Host… INVALUABLE CYCLING KNOWLEDGE. When staying with others and having time to relax and talk to them they can often, as well as having local knowledge, be a fountain of information about cycling in that place too. Magdalena, my host in Zurich, had cycled every hill in around around Zurich and the Alps and was perfect to help settle my nerves and to prepare for the next few days. She talked me through the journey from her house to my next stop in Andermatt in the Alps and had lots of brilliant stories about the amazing trips she had undertaken which were all relevant to the climbing that I would be doing over the coming days. There is more information on Magdalena and the Alps in my ‘Gotthard Pass’ blog.
Night 11 – L = Andermatt, Switzerland…. T : Camping… F: LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. Sometimes you just get to the place where you will be privileged enough to camp and say WOW!… following this; weather, company and all other factors go out of the window. On arrival in Andermatt, this was the case. I was met by the view at the beginning of this blog, a beautiful green valley in the middle of the glorious Alps. I was at ‘Gotthard Camping’ in Andermatt and all I can say is that if you ever get chance to see this, do it! The picture speaks for itself, I slept brilliantly, as a person who was in the middle of a dream even before I fell asleep. At this point I felt like I was literally on top of the world.
Night 12 – L = Bellinzona, Switzerland… T : Camping… F: SHARING OF EXPERIENCES… Following one of my hardest but definitely most rewarding days in the saddle over the top of The Gotthard Pass I arrived at ‘Camping Bellinzona’ and had my heart set on a nice pizza due to me now being in Italian speaking Switzerland. I sat down to eat and talked through experiences and plans for cycle touring until it was dark with a girl who was also on a solo trip. A very relaxing experience and positive in the way that it planted seeds and information for future trips.
Night 13 – L = Milan, Italy…. T : Camping… F: BAD EXPERIENCE. SHOCK! ….and so, of all of the cities I stayed in, Milan is one of the most famous and one which I was looking forward to experiencing. Should be one of the best nights of my stay I thought, I was wrong . My plan was to stay a couple, if not a few nights at the Camping Village in Milan so that I could explore the city, yet my first night forced me out of there at the first available opportunity. Firstly, my mood was not the best due to the road towards Milan from Como having what felt like the most sets of traffic light that changed at the quickest pace in the world. This is not a good combination for a cyclist wanting to clock up the miles as I was basically setting off putting my clips into my pedals getting into a rhythm and then slowing to another set of light and stop again. This carried on for at least an hour. I arrived at The site and just wanted to relax. I paid 17 Euros for the privilege of being shown to a patch of what I could only politely call grass, it was basically rock hard mud with dad grass on it in which i bent half of my pegs. To make things worse, there was no area as big as my tiny tent that did not have tree routes making ridges in the ground and periodically popping out. Safe to say that in the morning the only thing on my mind was comfort.
Night 14 – L = Bergamo, Italy… T : Hostel… F: BRILLIANT HOSTEL EXPERIENCE. For some reason, although not really a part of the intense cycling part of the trip, when I think of my time away, Bergamo sticks in my head. Im not too sure why, maybe it was because I had made it all the way to Italy and was now in for a nice relaxing break with time to reflect. Anyway Sarah had found Bergamo Youth Hostel for me moments after she had heard the desperation in my voice the night before. It is a really good quality hostel, with friendly staff and is very clean. It is not quite in the centre of Bergamo but is not a bad walk away. I was allowed to store my bike in their storage area and had my every need catered for, even down to them ordering me a pizza from the local takeaway which arrived promptly on the back of a Vespa. The thing to note about this in comparison to the night before is that I was charged the exact same price for the night but this time I had a bed, great service, great location, a rooftop terrace with a view to match any other and the holy grail (a plug socket to charge my phone). I shared with a couple of other people, a travelling american from California and an Argentinian who was waiting to see which lower league Italian football side he would be signing for in the upcoming season, both a pleasure to share a room with.
Sorry it’s been a long one and thanks again for reading :).