This is how I envision the Europe leg of the trip.
Nothing's written in stone, and there's no signed contract to
follow this route, but as my old boss used to say, "fail
to prepare, prepare to fail"...
Leave my mum's flat in Wallingford (ok, not London, but close
enough) on an ominously cold, grey and rainy day, towards
Harwich for the ferry ride across the cold, grey North Sea to
The Hague, Holland. Continue on to Germany and the
beginning of the Rhine valley, keeping close to the river to
avoid any frightening hills at this stage of the game.
Following the route of the Rhine, enjoying the old medieval
towns and villages and appreciating the essential flatness and
scarcity of large hills, I leave the Rhine somewhere around
Mainz and head southeast towards Bavaria. Prepare the
cycling leather lederhosen.
Join the River Danube somewhere near Regensburg and cross into
Austria, continuing to avoid any major climbs! Follow the
Danube valley past picturesque villages, forested slopes and
vineyards onto Vienna. "An eccentric grandmother", says the
Lonely Planet, "and hard not to feel affection for". Well, there
we have it.
On and off the Danube, dipping my toes in Slovakia (Bratislava)
and through some beautiful scenery and baroque villages into
Hungary and Budapest. I was here 12 years ago and was so
impressed I quit my job in the UK and decided to live here.
Couldn't find any work so it didn't happen, and instead, by a
series of unusual events, ended up in Japan.
Relaxed (or relieved) after an unnerving limb-pulling
buttock-slapping massage in a central Turkish bath, I expect
I'll be on my way down the Hungarian Plains (still doing well,
very well, avoiding mountains) and through to Yugoslavia and
Belgrade. My first time to this part of Europe and I don't
know what to expect - looking forward to it.
Traverse the back-roads of Serbia, winding eastwards into
Bulgaria - another first for me - and then head down towards
Sofia. The highest capital city in Europe so no avoiding hills
this time, but what an absolutely enchanting name for a capital
city. I just have to go there!
After a trip to Bulgaria's Rila Monastery and passing through
Plodiv to see the Old Town, I should, if all goes well, find
myself crossing the border into Turkey and onto Istanbul. Asia's
foothold in Europe, the old Constantinople.
A pat on the back, a congratulatory self-handshake... well done
Steve, but don't get too smug. You've only just started.