X-Europe-Tour

29. March 2019
by Frank Scharlau
0 comments

2018 Tirana to Thessaloniki

The flight with two shrink wrapped bicycles is meanwhile routine for me. Since we started in Split two years ago to pack the bikes this way, we had no longer problems checking in at the airport.

Unfortunately, this packing solution is still not perfect. The bikes are being treated like regular luggage without any special attention to avoid damages. I reached Tirana on Friday night with two bicycles not in a good shape. Sven was supposed to arrive the next day around 1 pm, our plan was to ride together from the airport to the city, where my family (Petra, Nicola and Fabian) was already waiting to spend the weekend with us. In the morning I assembled the bikes, I managed to repair almost all damaged parts, except of the bent part, which connects the pinion with the back wheel. At the third attempt I did it, the part broke off.

Experts call this part a derailleur hanger which is designed to break in order to protect the circuit from damage. Unfortunately, I did not have a spare rear derailleur with me (I had never heard of it before)! Would we have to cancel our tour this year because of this missing spare part?

The staff of the hotel where I stayed was very accommodating and sent their driver to assist me, he brought me along together with Sven’s bike to Tirana. However, we had only very little hope to get the necessary “derailleur” on a Saturday afternoon. The street we stopped turned out to be an Eldorado for cyclists: within 300 feet, there were 10 little bike shops to the left and the right of the road. Actually, the owner of the third store rummaged the right derailleur hanger up from a big box and repaired Sven’s bike in a few minutes! Our hero!

  

By the way: On the flight back home, the derailleur hanger of my Bergamont bike broke. In the Bergamont flagship store in Hamburg, the derailleur hanger was not on stock: it would take 5 days for delivery and the first possible appointment for the installation was only 4 weeks later. Hurray on the Albanian bicycle dealers !!!

Therefore, Sven and I had a relaxed ride to Tirana at noon. We stopped to say hello to our hero, checked out downtown Tirana and had a fantastic dinner together with my family.

  

We were convinced that we had already solved our biggest problem. In the best mood we started next morning to the south. We had already left, when the hotel manager told my family, that the route we chose was not accessible by bike. While planning the route my focus was to a find a moderate slope and I didn’t check the road surface. When the asphalt ended, we were still not worried. As we were greeted by donkey carts however, we started to get a tiny idea of what was ahead of us: 7 miles gravel road which brought us two flat tires and several falls, fortunately without serious injuries, just some scratches. We had to push our bicycles uphill several kilometers. Even Sven’s unbreakable optimisms seamed to fade away.

  

  

Fortunately, the second half of the day continued with a ride on a nicely paved road and we arrived at our hotel in time. It turned out to be a well-known stop on the road from Albania to Macedonia: 24 hours open restaurant and probably the only public restroom within miles, just underneath our hotel room.

The next day’s stage brought us uphill to Lake Ohrid, 2,000 feet above sea level. Still exhausted from the first day and because of a thunderstorm coming up from the south, we decided to take the shorter, northern bypass of the lake. When we reached the border to Macedonia, the rain started. To wait was no option, so we put on our rain gear and luckily, we had the rain front fairly soon behind us.

In Ohrid a young cyclist approached us, he was eager to sell us the best hotel rooms for little money. In fact, this became the cheapest overnight stay of our entire tour. It took us a while until we found out however, that there were no bed sheets or towels in the apartment. Who cares! Ohrid is a tourist town with the best access to the lake and with tons of nice restaurants and hotels. Most of the tourists are from Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo and Greece.

  

The third day brought us again almost 3,000 feet of altitude and with almost 3,500 feet altitude the highest point of this year’s leg. It started immediately with a long climb, but with some breaks it was easy to handle. Halfway I made another attempt to choose a side road, but we turned around after a few feet on gravel. As the main street was not as busy as we thought and most of the drivers honored the speed limit of 70 km / h, we felt rather safe and enjoyed riding on the paved underground. Our stage ended in Bitola, the third largest city in Macedonia with 70,000 residents. The town has a wide pedestrian zone through the center of the city. Here we found a nice restaurant: The food was excellent, and the waiter did a great job to explain the best local dishes and drinks to us.

  

  

The fourth day’s stage of the day started relaxed with pleasant temperatures and without headwinds. We soon reached the border to Greece. This is the 15th country we got to on our x-Europe tour: we cycled through Scotland, England, France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia and now Greece. Since we had just mastered 3 rather stressful days, we decided to change our route a bit. 7 miles more saved us 1,200 feet in altitude. A big thanks to Google Maps! Also, the route change brought us an almost untraveled road along a beautiful lake. The final 10 miles went only downhill! We arrived in a good mood in Edessa and found immediately a small, very nice hotel. At the outskirts to the east, the terrain drops 600 feet directly, so that the small rivers through Edessa flow in quaint waterfall cascades towards the valley.

  

After the short 600 feet downhill ride, the last stage towards Thessaloniki didn’t present any special highlights. We hardly had an opportunity to avoid the traffic of the main road, instead we share it with a lot of trucks. The only exception was a 7-miles-long well-developed road, with almost no traffic. We could ride relaxed next to each other. Big signs explained that this road was built with EU funds. However, as it is 1.5 miles longer than the old road nobody uses it.

In Thessaloniki we enjoyed a huge cup of ice-cream in one of the pedestrian zones with the view on the ocean before we took a sunbath in the afternoon on the lawn around the old lighthouse (White Tower) overlooking the promenade and the harbor. As dark clouds came up, we rushed to our hotel, close to the airport and prepared the bicycles for the flight.

  

Sven and I could not agree on whether to end our x-Europe-Tour in Istanbul as originally planned, or to go to Athens instead because of the political situation in Turkey. We decided on a double finish. On 05/11/2019 we will celebrate the first end of the tour in Athens, I will be responsible for the arrangements and in 2020 we will celebrate our finish in Istanbul, which will be planned by Sven. So, if you are up for it, please join our small party in Athens on May 11th, 2019!

Galerie

7. February 2018
by Frank Scharlau
0 comments

2017 Split to Tirana

A sensational route lies ahead of us: this year we cycle along the southern Croatian coast and continue through Montenegro to Albania.

After carrying our bicycles for more than 20 years on aircraft we found this year the perfect packaging solution: we dismantle the front wheels and pedals, stick the front wheels against the bicycle frame and wrap the whole thing with stretch foil. Small dents on the bikes can’t be avoided, but we are tired of endless discussions with the airline staff in the recent years and the constant fear that they could reject our bicycles. Therefore we will carry with us from now on: a roll of stretch foil and tape, and within 30 minutes our bicycles are transformed into shrink wrapped packages.

 

Just 3 miles / 5 km on our way from Split airport to downtown Sven overlooks a pothole and we need to fix a flat tire.

  

Afterwards we find a very nice hotel close to the old town and it is still hot when we stroll through the narrow streets looking for an appealing restaurant to have dinner at the historic market place.

  

The destination on our first day is the small town of Gradac, which is 65 miles / 100 km away. Riding towards Albania we will stay on highway no. 8 for a couple of days. There are no alternatives: mountains are on our left and the Adriatic is on the right. The hilly territory between a steady uphill and downhill for us.

  

The maximum altitude on this day’s stage is 600 feet / 200 meters, which shouldn’t be a challenge for us, as we crossed the Alps ! However, since I am not used to the unusually hot weather – it’s over 90 degrees Fahrenheit / 30 degrees Celsius – I’m totally exhausted in the afternoon. We constantly need to do short uphill climbs. Drinking 1.5 gallons / 5 liters of water is simply not enough. Thanks to a power drink from Sven’s “Triathlon Magic Package”, we finally reach Gradac and celebrate the victory of our first day’s stage while sitting by the water drinking Czech beer. At sunset, all lights on the beach and in the restaurants were suddenly turned off. When we ask for the check, we finally realize that this romantic atmosphere is caused by a power outage ! No credit card payment is possible, and we have to collect all cash we still possess in Kuna to pay the bill.

  

Later we leave our sweaty clothes and cycling shoes on the balcony and assume that they will dry during the night. Around 3am an incredible sheet lightning wakes us up. The summer storm is a great spectacle of lightning and thunder which we really enjoy. On the flip side, we unfortunately need to start our trip next morning with soaking wet shoes and cycling pants. But it is not a complete disaster as we already have 30 degrees. After the short, but steep climb back to route no. 8, we are fully warmed up. We pass the narrow strip that belongs to Bosnia-Herzegovina and return to Croatia after a few miles. The second part of the day is dominated by many climbs. Dubrovnik is already in sight, when we have to master another 300 feet / 100 meters in altitude. We pick the first hotel we can find, it has a beautiful view over the bay.

  

On our way to the old town we walk down endless stairs and then take a bus. The historic city center of Dubrovnik is really impressive. We stroll through almost every side street and enjoy our dinner in one of the many restaurants.

  

Our next destination is Budva in Montenegro. Until now a highway which runs parallel to our Route No. 8 took all the transit traffic. After leaving Dubrovnik the traffic volume is much higher, and the trucks are passing by scary close to us. We stay disciplined, on the right side of the road, hoping that the truck drivers are not tired. We make it without accidents to the border of Montenegro. The clerk just smiles at us when we try to pay for the ferry in the Bay of Kotor with Croatian Kuna. We are back in the „Euro Zone“.

  

 

Déja vu: It goes steeply uphill again shortly before Budva. We take several breaks to drink plenty of water and finally master the 1500 feet / 500 meters altitude and roll downhill on the other side of the hill to downtown Budva. The place seems to be almost fully booked and we manage to get a tiny double room. On our search for a nice restaurant, we end up together with hundreds of tourists in a kind of adventure park at the beach: restaurants, gambling dens, live music, ice cream parlors, giant swings and cocktail bars are all over the beach. We learn that Budva is the designated destination for teenagers, not only for Montenegro, also for the bordering countries.

 

Next morning we head to Albania. Shkodra is our next destination. Thanks to Google Maps we find first the small road and then the shortcut that leads us over a small ridge. Once at the top, we treat ourselves with a huge plate of pasta as the only guests of a restaurant, enjoying the breathtaking view over the valley. With recharged batteries it’s an easy ride to the border. The first impression immediately after the border seems to confirm every prejudice: a man in a wheelchair and a family with little kids are begging for money between the waiting cars. A donkey cart, followed by cows and chickens is passing by.

 

But then we experience another Albania: We see many cars, almost half of them are high end, like Mercedes, BMW or Audi. Shkodra is a bustling city, where we stay for € 80 including dinner and breakfast in a plushy 5-star hotel. The people we meet during our stay are all very friendly and we have nice chats with many Albanians.

  

The last day will bring us to Tirana Airport. It’s only 50 miles / 80 km, the shortest stage and also almost entirely flat. In addition, the sun hides a bit behind the clouds for the first time. So, we start in our best mood at 100 degrees Fahrenheit / 37 degrees Celsius. But after 20 miles / 40 km with steady, sometimes strong headwinds we are not so sure that this will be an easy ride. We make a detour to the Adriatic Sea to Shengjin, an apartment town with a beautiful beach. After a short lunch break, we continue on the well-developed road to Tirana. Unfortunately, the road then merges into the highway and we have to ride across the fields to reach the parallel road. Instead of 20 miles / 30 km we ride now 25 miles / 40 km and the last 15 miles / 20 km on a dirt road.

 

 

Ice cold coke, a huge ice cream and a big swimming pool reward us at the airport hotel. A rich 3-course dinner served in the hotel garden is the ingenious finishing touch of this year’s tour through 4 countries.

  

Galerie

4. May 2017
by Frank Scharlau
0 comments

2016 Triest to Split

Arrival:
This year Sven flew to Hamburg, so we could start our trip together from our hometown. Sven arrived at the airport on time in the morning, met as usual some friends and relatives for breakfast, lunch and coffee, so we could cycle to the airport in the afternoon together and get a quick start.

For the first time, we are flying with Easy-Jet. And for the first time, our tour is at serious risk. Despite the pre-registration of our bicycles, Easy-Jet is not willing to take our bicycles without the appropriate bicycle carry bags. Talks with the manager, phone calls with London, cardboard boxes taken from EDEKA (the local grocery store), quickly wrapped around the bicycles, all without success. Last hope: The complaints desk. A glimmer of hope came up as the manager brought along more cartons. Only 35 minutes left till departure, we finally carry the bicycles to the bulk baggage scanner. Sven’s bike lost already the first carton and does not fit through the scanner. The search for the guy with the hand scanner begins. 25 minutes left until departure. Finally, it works. Now boarding starts, the security checkpoint is packed. The hate-filled looks of the other guests do not bother us: within 30 seconds we make it to the gate and enter the aircraft without a pause, but soaked in sweat…

Big surprise in Venice: Our bike bags and bicycles made it into the plane as well! It is only a short ride, about 25 minutes from the airport to the train station, but the light drizzle seems to signal that this year‘s stage is not going to be an easy one.
Around 11 pm we arrive in Monfalcone, our starting point north of Trieste. After a short disorientation, we find the hotel we stayed at last year.

1. Day

After having a nice breakfast, we ride straight ahead along the coast to Trieste. We have a short break at the Piazza Grande with the stunning town hall and other beautiful palaces.

Along the water, we cycle around the city’s really steep hill, ending up by mistake on the highway yet luckily manage to take the next exit after the tunnel. Then we have the rise to the mountains of Slovenia in front of us. Slovenia welcomes us at the border with a short but heavy rain shower.


In the quite sparsely populated mountains of Slovenia, we fill up our water supplies at a farm and almost miss the only restaurant.  While enjoying delicious chicken with pasta, the next rain shower passes by. The border to Croatia is pretty exciting, secured with barbed wire, three border guards are waiting for some cars passing through once in a while and us, two cyclists.

The last 12 miles are almost only downhill towards Rijeka. On our first day, we started pretty well with 70 miles covered and more than 3,300 feet in altitude climbed.

Rijeka, located in the north of Croatia on the Kvarner Bay, is a beautiful city with nice pedestrian zones and especially in summer is filled with tourists. However, that we are supposed to pay for two cups of ice cream 31 Euro, is surprising to us. Finally, we realize that after 2,000 miles we are out of the Eurozone and must pay in Kuna.

2. Day

The second day leads us along the steep coast of the Adriatic. Right at the start leaving Rijeka we have to master the first 900 feet climb, which immediately leads to a downhill portion again before we start to climb once more. We slow down our pace and take more breaks. This will by far be the most stressful part of this year’s leg! Several power bars and good food refill us with energy.  The water supply is not easy: the two liters are quickly consumed and no store, petrol station or restaurant in sight. Finally, a we see a sign for a restaurant and we are looking forward to some refreshments coming up in the next 2 miles. Unfortunately, the restaurant is closed, but a nice, old lady has mercy on us and not only refills our bottles with water but also gives each of us a handful of cherries. Cherries never tasted so delicious! Finally, we get to the junction leading to our hotel, where we had made a reservation because of the sparsely populated area. The road goes steep down to the bay and all of the sudden we realize that we have to climb up the hill all the way the next morning! Continue Reading →

10. March 2016
by Frank Scharlau
0 comments

2015 Innsbruck to Trieste

First of all: This was one of the most beautiful stages we had during our cycling tours since 1990.

The flight from Hamburg with both bikes checked in as oversized luggage went smoothly again. Over the decades it has become rather routine for the people at the check in counter to deal with bicycles as bulk luggage. I arrived safely and relaxed in Munich. Almost at the same time Sven flew in from Florida via Dusseldorf and Kjell, Sven’s son, arrived from Stuttgart in a rental car. Very convenient for us, we had a driver who took us to Innsbruck. The next stages starting with Trieste will be for sure more difficult in terms of arrival and departure.

In Innsbruck we had pre-booked a hotel and witnessed a storm of apocalyptic proportions during dinner in a restaurant opposite from „the golden Dächerl“ , storm included tremendous winds & heavy rain. Best conditions for our upcoming bike ride.

00_01 00_02 00_03 00_04

The next morning the three of us travelled by car exactly to the place (Mötz), where we had finished our tour last year after crossing the first Alp pass and reaching the Inn Valley. With perfect weather conditions (no rain and no headwind) we started our cycling tour in high spirits and pumped up with adrenaline on a beautiful path and cycled through the Inn Valley to the west.

01_01 01_02 01_03 01_04

Continue Reading →

24. March 2015
by Frank Scharlau
0 comments

2014 Basel to Innsbruck

Like every year we could’t wait to start again, Sven had done the logistics part very well, we arrived in Basel almost at the same time; he flew in from Florida via Dusseldorf, I had a direct flight from Hamburg. All bags and both bikes come in safely, we could start this year’s leg without any complications.

P1030832 P1030834

My job was, as every year, to work out the perfect route. I spent much of my time on that, since we had to master our first mountain pass. I was eager to find the best route, knowing that an „insider“ would join us the first day, I did not want to embarrass myself.

In Basel we got a warm welcome from Rolf‘s and Peter’s families. A dinner with both families and Sven’s sons Finn and Kjell evoked memories of the final stage of our last year’s trip. Once again thanks to the families of Rolf and Peter for accommodating us.

P1030839 P1030841

Continue Reading →

19. March 2014
by Frank Scharlau
0 comments

2013 Reims to Basel

Start am 09.06.2013
As usual Sven had coordinated the flights perfectly, we would have arrived at the same time in Paris. But unfortunately my flight had a delay of more than 2 hours. Check in of both bikes ran smoothly, the required unscrewing of the pedals worked well: these were packed in the carry-on luggage. The fact that I had to open my bag to prove to the security people the harmless nature of the pedals did not irritate me. But then the security officer pointed at the pedals and said: „They are confiscated“. Suddenly I felt quite uneasy. Cycling 500 km without pedals did not seem very appealing to me. Fortunately, the humorist meant my cookies, he had the same taste for biscuits.

Sven was waiting for me at baggage claim, he was half reading, half asleep. We received the bikes, assembled them and started.

Sven hat seinen Helm wiederA few meters before we arrived at the station platform to enter the train to Paris, Sven realized that he had left behind his helmet at the luggage belt. In his helmet he had well hidden his papers, credit cards and cash. But in Paris, as is well known, nothing gets lost…

The metro took us to the Gare du Nord: No problems to pass with our bikes, they even had bicycle friendly revolving gates. At the train station we booked our overnight stay in the next hotel, it turned out to be the worst and most expensive hotel of this leg of the trip.

Frank im Zug Mit Fahrrad durchs Drehkreuze

Continue Reading →

14. February 2013
by Frank Scharlau
0 comments

2012 London to Reims

Starting on June 6th 2012
Carrying 2 bikes under my arm I crossed Terminal 1 at Hamburg Airport several times, looking for the right check in counter. Despite the picky supervisor at British Airways, mumbling something about boxes for bicycles according to British Airways policy, I managed to check in after “only “60 minutes; both bikes and my luggage without paying additional fees. However I felt like I had mastered my first tour leg crossing a mountain.

Bericht London Reims 1 Bericht London Reims 2

In London Heathrow I met Sven, who arrived on time half an hour earlier directly from Miami. Contrary to the reputation of London / Heathrow Airport our luggage including bicycles had arrived, so we could put on our bike gear immediately. Sven was wondering about the cold air-conditioning, but after leaving the airport building he noticed that the temperature in the building was almost 10 degrees Celsius above the outside temperature. Now it was very obvious that Sven had brought his bike shorts completely unnecessarily.

Bericht London Reims 3 Bericht London Reims 4

Continue Reading →

11. January 2012
by Frank Scharlau
0 comments

2011 Manchester to London

Übersichtskarte
This year’s leg of our x-Europe -Tour us from Manchester to London on a direct path of about 350 km (220 miles). We had 4 days to complete it and with an average of 100 km (65 miles) per day we were able to afford a  few detours.
2011_1.Tag_06 Manchester - Buxton
We start out with great weather (even Sven wore a short sleeve) and were happy to be on the Road again.
Continue Reading →

14. November 2010
by Frank Scharlau
0 comments

2010 The first leg of our X-Europe-Tour from Glasgow to Manchester

Karte Glasgow - Manchester

Saturday 07/31/10, from Glasgow to Invararay

We started the tour on fantastic cycle paths, always next to the water with almost no rain, even though forecast was really bad. In the afternoon we had to climb a hill with the interesting name “Rest and be thankful” and enjoyed the great view from the top afterwards. Thanks to Gary Keatings, he arranged accommodation for us in Invararay. The dinner at St. George’s was excellent.

Sunday 08/01/10, from Invararay to Brodick

We experienced the Scottish Highlands ! A fairly hilly leg made us climb in total 800 m. Whether wasn’t perfect, however no rain in the morning and even some sunshine in the afternoon. After our lunch break we cycled exclusively on small roads. A ferry brought us to the island Arran. The last 25 km to Brodick were just spectacular ! Bed and breakfast at Eleanor Hamilton was again arranged by Gary Keatings. Great hospitality ! We enjoyed dinner at Brodick’s brasserie. The chef lectured on the important differences between the Scottish and English cuisine.
Continue Reading →