25. dec, 2016


Back into Europe with a slightly damp bum.

It’s cold, it’s damp, it’s a shock the price they’re asking for a wee tub of mango at the airport after the fresh fruit we’ve been eating in Thailand.

But content to be back and looking forward to what the next year brings.

This year’s been hard, fun, eye opening, entertaining, frightening, boring, educational, overwhelming, wet, dry, cold, hot, but more than anything just brilliant.

We didn’t manage to do everything we planned but we did some fantastic things we hadn’t planned.
Looking forward to another year of unknowns I can’t help but be excited by what adventure we can get up to with our three intrepid boys.

For now we’re going to be seeing out this year in the Netherlands with family and friends then returning to Scotland with a sense of optimism and enthusiasm for the future and to go and explore.

Backpacking in Thailand has been fun and interesting and educational in various ways.

We’ve learned that Bangkok is sweltering hot even in winter. We’ve experienced Thai traffic on foot, in buses, tuk tuks, taxis, trains, and in sleeper trains. We’ve learned something about Buddhism and the temples. We’ve learned we can make a 14 hour day journey from door to door and the boys can handle it. We’ve also learned that mp3 players with loads of audio books are essential, and we thank JK Rowling and Enid Blyton and narrators from the bottom of our hearts. We’ve learned you better take your own toilet roll to a Thai toilet or you end up with a wet bum, but don’t flush the paper as it’ll block the pipes! We’ve experienced that even when careful it’s hard to avoid tummy troubles all together. But the fruit smoothies that might be responsible for the troubles were also the best ever, and worth the gamble. We’ve had the excellent service at night markets with the most delicious Thai food, and the worst service and the worst lunch in a busy restaurant. We’ve learned to haggle and we’ve learned we still have a lot to learn. It’s been an experience.

As some of you might remember, the decision to leave our bikes behind and go backpacking was a difficult one. We love our bikes, but boredom started to set in for the boys as the tandem and triplet weren’t challenging them enough. They could sit with their feet up, and that’s what they often did. The lack of stimulants caused fidgeting, fighting and frustration. The individual bikes, we felt , weren’t an option in Thailand traffic. And so far we stand by that decision, we don’t regret it.

Backpacking, however, has its own challenges. We were prepared for the boys’ boredom while journeying from one place of interest to another (audio books have saved those days), what we hadn’t foreseen was boredom once we got somewhere. Seeing a temple proves great, for half an hour perhaps 45 minutes. After that the wow factor wears off, and the heat and the hassle are getting to the boys. The hassle is the pointing, gaping, and giggling at the boys, the prodding, grabbing, stroking and the unannounced and unwanted selfies people are taking with the boys. So, seen one temple seen them all and the harassment makes it difficult to stimulate the boys to go out.
Iain and I find it hard to find a rhythm for us all. We miss the independence, the routine, the purpose and the physical exercise and challenge bike touring gave us.

Maybe we’ve just been on the road and away from home long enough now.

So though Thailand was fun, and interesting, and we’ve learned lots, most importantly about ourselves, we’ve decided to cut this trip short and look forward to other adventures. Tomorrow we fly to the Netherlands to visit my family for Xmas and New Year and then we’ll look for a new place to live in Scotland. This bike/ travelling adventure is over, but we’re already planning and dreaming up a new one, on single bikes. For now, over and out.

Sleeping makes hungry (especially if u sleep through lunch).

Travelling is tiring.

Apparently it rains about 1 day a month in this region. That day was today. Although in Scotland you wouldn’t call it rain, just drizzle. It brought the temperature down, though, to a chilly 25°C. We couldn’t have picked a better day to visit the Royal Park Rajapruek.

Disappointed that the one other travel family we’ve met, and who is in the apartment below us, with kids of similar ages, is not engaging in any kind of conversation.

They are German but do speak English, I know because when I started a conversation in English, they just stared at me. So I asked in German if they spoke English, and they answered they did. Rest of the conversation was very awkward and one sided. No acknowledgements ever since. We’re the only people on the whole resort. Puzzled.

We saw it, the third and last super moon of 2016

This was tonight, Dec 14 (we’re 7 hrs ahead of u). If last night it was huge, check it tonight. Today’s the super moon, it should be bigger than last night’s, if visible.

Over the last few days the moon has already been incredibly bright. (That big light in the sky really is the moon.) Hopefully we’re finally in a good place to observe tonight’s super moon. The previous two were obscured by clouds.

Swimming, swimming and more swimming. Morning, noon and evening. Followed by a short break for a road side meal. Best we’ve had some far, tom yum, fried rice, pad thai, and a delicious unknown (point at picture) curry with 2 rice, feeling stuffed for 260 thb (£ 6.20). And after that... night swimming of course!

A lovely evening sky with loads of bats (invisible on the picture) on our way back to the resort after a quick shop for some breakfast, snacks and our evening tea. We have now got a little kitchen available which is quite nice, though I don’t think it actually works out any cheaper than just buying stuff at local market (probably even more expensive), but it’s nice not having to go out every time.

Phew... after nearly 2 weeks in Thailand I’m finally falling asleep at a normal time, not waking up in the middle of the night and lying awake for 3 to 4 hours and I am waking up when you should. Not sure if this is despite or due to the rock hard bed, which, it has to be said, is not half as bad as I thought it would be. I prefer it over too soft a mattress.

Not sure what we are going to do today. We’re a bit done with the sight-seeing for now. We looked into the elephant camp thing but have decided against it. It is said to be elephant friendly and have elephant welfare in mind, but it is such a big tourist attraction that it cannot be in the elephant’s interest. Even if there are genuine elephant rescue parks, first of all it is hard to distinguish between the good and the bad from just a leaflet. Second of all, surely elephants shouldn’t be exposed to human contact all the time (every day the same routine, everyday being fed by bunches of tourists, and being led to the river for a wash and play), let alone traumatised elephants.

I’ve wondered before about the impact of tourism and I find it a hard subject to crack. I like travelling, and seeing and experiencing different countries and cultures but I wonder what is lost or broken by it. I know tourist money is welcome, that’s no different here or Scotland or anywhere in the world. But in places where for example animal welfare is not regulated or reinforced as much, it’s easy for people to make an quick buck. I’m thinking the same about the zip line experiences on offer. How much environmental damage is done by unregulated business opportunists?


The two sides of tourism...

The night train to Chiang Mai was an interesting experience. Compared to the previous two night trains on our travels (Split- Zagreb and Munich-Netherlands) this one was a lot noisier, brighter (light doesn’t go off during the night), but also pleasantly cool. So we slept on and off and were glad we had booked a guest house before arrival.

The guest house, owned by a Dutch guy is definitely a budget place (I’m curious how I’ll sleep in the bed that feels like it has a wooden plank for a mattress), but the atmosphere is nice and the food is good and very affordable. It’s feels a bit odd to be able to order a Dutch “kroket” and “uitsmijter”, but we enjoyed the pancakes, and this evening the Thai food, khao soi, was also good.

Art in paradise, a museum full of 3D art, was a great way of escaping the hustle and bustle for a while.

P and I explored the night bazaar. Not getting harassed by anybody, P visible relaxed after the first 10 minutes. P got himself another bracelet (the Slovenian one needs fixed), a wooden gun with elastic bands, a bag of mangosteen (fruit) and a new t shirt for Iain. Love to spend some one on one time with my oldest.

A gecko that dropped out of a tree into the water, and then was doing its best to stay out of sight of 5 curious kids and 4 just as curious adults.

Life and therefore also travel doesn’t always go as planned. We booked ahead a cheap guest house in Lopburi and figured we would book the night train from there to Chiang Mai. Arriving in Lopburi this afternoon we finally had a chance to book the sleeper, to find out the only sleeper still available is the one tonight.

We still had lots of time before it leaves tonight, so we went over to guest house to dump our bags and pay for the one day we couldn’t cancel. Just then a cycle tourist turned up, looking for a room. Since we already had paid for our rooms for the night we offered her to take one on us. This way we’re paying forward the kindness and hospitality shown by others to us.

The famous monkey temple in Lopburi is a bit a bit scary in my opinion. P had a macaque climbing on top him within a minute. Next I had two hanging from my trousers and that did it for me and K. The other three braved them a bit longer and actually walked around the temple, but K and I made our way to the exit, carefully trying not to attract any monkey attention. I don’t particularly regret having to get on to the train again tonight.

However, the market is the most attractive one we’ve seen so far. It’s incredibly busy but (or should I say because) the food all just looks delicious.

So we’ll be in Chiang Mai a bit earlier than expected. The boys are delighted as we are now booked on the same train as their new found friends.

A fab day in Ayutthaya. First time we ran into Jo & Daren and their two girls was during breakfast. After wandering through Wat Maha That we bumped into them again as both families were trying to find a way of entertaining the kids for the remainder of the day. (Temples only hold their attention for so long). While we chatted, the kids sussed each other out. Suddenly someone spotted a big monitor lizard in the water, and off they went. The rest of the day was spend spotting and chasing various wild creatures, running along the water and over bridges to find the best place to see monitor lizards, a turtle, birds, insects and grubs. At the end of the day we all sauntered over to the night market and grazed our way back to the guest house. We plan to catch up in Chiang Mai and do a cooking course together. Another lovely lucky encounter on our travels.

5 hours it took us from Kanchanaburi to Ayutthaya. We had to change bus in Suphan Buri, where we had a rubbish quick lunch at the station. All in all the boys suffered the long journey very well. K and P listened to Harry Potter audio books, and E was bobbing along on his favourite music at the moment: Lukas Graham. Adorable to hear him singing along: “when I was 7 years old” (he’s not even 6).

As for the pent-up energy, the night market near our guesthouse offered a great solution: a bouncy castle and trampoline where the boys could run and jump and roll and tumble for half an hour for 20 THB pp (=48 pence). Money well spend!

Travelling isn’t always a picnic, child’s play, and a piece of cake. It’s regularly a stressful undertaking involving blood sweat and tears. Well, blood not so much really, unless one of the kids skins a knee, but sweat and tears are a part of family travelling as much as it is of normal family life, possibly even more so. However it’s a part that doesn’t feature often in travel blogs. I wonder sometimes: are we the only travel family having a hard time? You never read about it. But admittedly we don’t show off the hard times in our posts either. Of course you don’t, you don’t want to remember those bits, and writing about it just feels like whining. I mean, we are so privileged to be able to travel like this, to take time away from work, from “normal” life.

But I’d like to address the struggles just this once. I don’t want future travelling families who might look at all those family travel blogs (ours included) to get an unrealistic idea about what it is like to travel with children. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

We have three very energetic boys who don’t sit still unless it’s in front of a telly. However as soon as they get some telly time we have to be prepared for hyper behaviour afterwards. So to put them in front of a telly in order to get some quiet time to discuss travel plans or to entertain a sick child (like we had today), just delays the problem and usually exacerbates it too.

The difficulty we find with travelling, especially since in Thailand, is that there is not much for self-directed entertainment. We don’t have many toys with us, and it’s not often we feel it’s safe enough for them to go out and explore by themselves. Unwanted attention (the hand shaking, poking, tickling, picture taking, hair rustling and even pulling K in a far too intimate hold where Iain and I had to step in to get the guy to let him go) is one reason, unfamiliarity with wildlife dangers (such as snakes) is the other. So boredom is a real danger. Now you can argue that you just need to keep doing things but that’s not realistic either. Down time is needed to process all the new impressions. We read about other families relaxing for the day, reading books. It makes me green with envy. I love reading, hiding in a book for a couple of hours is an unimaginable luxury at the moment. The boys do not like reading, and that’s an understatement. They love stories, but they hate reading by themselves. They love being read to by us or audio books, but again, a bit like telly, it just saves up all that energy and it will come out later.

So the boredom leads to whining and fighting. And the fact that you are in a beautiful exotic place does not make it any easier to deal with. Possibly it makes it more frustrating sometimes. You feel you are trying so hard to give your kids a fantastic memorable experience that it’s hard to listen to the whining about: “why are we not in a hotel with a pool” or “why can’t we go back to the waterfalls”. A limit budget is often the answer. Today for lunch we splashed out on a Western cuisine, the boys had hamburg, fish & chips and steak pie. The bill came in at 4 times the price we’ve been paying for Thai lunches recently, that is half our daily budget. Was it worth it? It probably was. I think they realised Western lunches aren’t that great, and Thai food is actually far tastier. They all ate with gusto the Thai dinner our guest house hostess rustled up for us in the evening. And so we battle on.

Tomorrow, I’m sure we’ll have to deal with kids being too hot or too bored in a minibus that takes too long to get where we want to be. No argument of what fantastic things we will encounter once there, or what wonderful views we can see while driving will change that. Kids are kids and live for the here and now. That makes them challenging but also delightful travel partners, because when it’s good it’s great. And those whining times, the sweat and the tears? They will diminish and what will be left in our recollection is probably a condensed version of our travel experiences with lots of amazing memories, and stories.

Erawan Waterfalls. Another “Best day ever!”

We had lovely time on the river, spotting king fisher, a water lizard, and lots of beautiful herons. We very much enjoyed the wonderful landscape and views.

Our first day in Kanchanaburi we thought we planned an easy day but it ended up being quite a full day. In the morning we kayak on the river Kwai under The Bridge, and to the Chinese temple. We saw a kingfisher, lots of herons, and lizard head poking out between the lily pads. We asked our pick up to drop us off into town for a bite to eat. She then proceeded to usher us into a Thai street kitchen, one we probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to choose ourselves yet. However I’m glad she did, the food was amazing. Our pick up/hostess was obviously gathering promotional material for the lodge as she took loads of pictures for on their Facebook page.

In the afternoon we went to the Jeath War museum to learn more about the history of the Bridge. The boys lost interest pretty quickly but found a pond with BIG fish in it. A staff member showed them how to feed the fish and the boys were entertained for the rest of the afternoon. Coming out of the museum in the early evening, we stepping straight into a local festival commemorating the War and the bridge over the River Kwai (or Kwae as I’ve seen it written here). There was lots to see and do and luckily the boys were left alone. Paden finally got his chance to taste insects but was suddenly a lot less keen. He did however eat a deep fried grub offered to him by a Thai girl who saw him watch her eat a bag of it as if it were crisps.

Unfortunately we had to leave before the fireworks started as the boys were done. But it was a day to remember, I am sure the boys will if only for the kayaking and feeding the fish.

All feeling much better again after being a little shaky yesterday, we took the train from Thonburi Station to Kanchanaburi, the location of the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai. Before our 2.5 hr train ride, we stocked up on noodles, cakes, popcorn, chips with new flavours, and lots of different fruits: jackfruit (one of our new favourites), little fat bananas (yum!), a kind of tangerine, a lychee like fruit, and a fruit I don’t even know in what category to put it, looks like the lychee like fruit but has sections like citrus and even tastes citrusy. Writing this I suddenly realise I should have taken pictures...

The train journey was exciting, with lots to see, and very noisy. Finally after nearly 2.5hrs we could see the hills starting to appear around us. Not like the hills in Scotland, it was noted, these are hills out of dreams. Uhm... I’ll take pictures tomorrow.

The next few days we’ll explore Kanchanaburi and surroundings. It’s definitely a tourist town, but it feels more relaxed than Bangkok. I hope because people here will be used to tourists there will be less attention for the boys as they are fed up with people poking them, shaking their hands, wanting to see P’s blue eyes, and touching K’s and E’s hair. Iain and I need to be more proactive to shelter them from this.

Yesterday we went to a snake farm where they “milk” snakes for the production of anti-venom. We were lucky to arrive just before the snake handling show. They started off with a very big king cobra which even at the back of the audience made K feel uncomfortable. At the end of the show you could hold a Burmese python; an opportunity P jumped on. It was a few hours well spend. Afterwards we wandered around for a bit and tried street food for the first time, and experience that we had looked forward to but was slightly disappointing (especially when a few hours later back in our room E, who hasn’t got much to spare, was sick). Trying to get back to the hostel during Bangkok rush hour was a mistake you only make once. We planned to leave today but as E looked green again this morning we arranged another night. Hope to move on to somewhere less crowded tomorrow.

Exploring Bangkok (well, a teeny tiny bit of it, within 1 mile of our guesthouse). Even ordinary birds look extraordinary to us. K has summed it up: “everything is beautiful, this country is too beautiful”. That can definitely be said of the first temple we visited: Wat Pho. So much detail! For the boys sake we didn’t stay too long. We went for a very late lunch or early tea to prevent low blood sugar induced sulking. Our body clocks are still somewhat confused. Then we FINALLY had our first ride in a tuk tuk (kids experience time differently than we do). We bartered for the price and it sounds like we actually had a reasonable deal. It’s always difficult at arrival in a new country to judge these things and learn the “real” prices of things. The driver was so kind to let the boys “drive” the tuk tuk.

So proud of our three boys. It’s quite something to be taken on trip around the world because your parents fancy it. After a long, patience practising journey, starting at 8 am and ending in a hotel room in a hot, humid country at 11.30 am (when your uk body clock definitely tells you it’s 4.30 am, middle of the night) with not an awful lot of sleep in between, I find it amazing how these three adept, and take it all in their stride. Even a busy crowded noisy smelly market hall, with people touching their hair, didn’t throw them.

First impressions of Bangkok: WOW, fast chaotic traffic, hot & humid, and delicious food!

After a short flight to Heathrow we’re now hanging around for our connection to Bangkok.
After a long break in the Netherlands & Scotland we’re now finally on our way again. Hanging around at Heathrow for our connection to Bangkok. Slightly apprehensive about our first long haul flight, sitting still is not one of the boys’ strong points. Long live in-flight entertainment! However, we’re all very excited about Thailand

PS 11 ½ hr flight wasn’t nearly as difficult as feared. Hip hip hooray for film industry.

After three weeks in Scotland, catching up with family & friends, play dates, sleep overs, and snow fun, we’re about to head off again for the first part of our second leg. We’re heading over to the Netherlands today to fly out to Thailand coming Saturday. To cope with the waiting on airports and time spend on aeroplanes we took the best toy ever, Lego, sorely missed on our first leg of the trip.

(Pictures are a bit of an overview of the last month)

So you might have noticed it’s a long time ago since we updated our whereabouts. It’s been a turbulent month, full of uncertainties, last minute decisions, and U-turns.

To start where we left off. We arrived in Split (Croatia) with the ferry from Trogir. Split proved to be another fabulous vibrant city along the Croatian coast. We loved Split and Croatia as a whole but the three days cycling from Zadar to Trogir had been hard on our spirits. Although 95% of the drivers were taking very good care to give us plenty of space on the road, there was that 5% that cut it very neat. We were starting to wonder when we would run out of blessings. Not sure what would be the best continuation plan we decided to take some down time outside of Split (Split is very expensive), on the other side of the water, in Slatine. The apartment was in a lovely location and our host was the best, but unfortunately we were misinformed by the tourist information about the ferry back to Split. We had arrived in Slatine with the last ferry run. This suddenly made Split seem inaccessible as we had been told the road between Trogir and Split was very busy and dangerous, and we weren’t keen in trying our luck after so many close shaves between Zadar and Trogir.

At the same time autumn weather had taken over, with lots more rain and wind. We felt we had slowed down too much to make it to Greece. Over a week’s time we considered lots of different options like getting to Split and take the ferry over to Ancona (Italy), or taking the catamaran from Split to Dubrovnik and then to Bari (Italy). Or fly out from Split airport. Each options had its pros and cons, and not one of them had our full-hearted conviction. After week we opted for training it from Split to Zagreb, Zagreb to Munich, and Munich to the Netherlands, to then decide on our next move. It would give us the option of catching up with family in the Netherlands, picking up things we had left, and leave things we didn’t need.

The sleeper train from Split to Zagreb with a very grumpy conductor was an adventure. We had a day in Zagreb before taking the day train to Munich, and again were enchanted, it has made us all the more determined to come back to Croatia and see more of this wonderful country. Getting on the train to Munich was a challenge to say the least. The bike section was in the middle of the compartment (whoever thought that was a good design?). The train staff was pretty useless, they just shrugged their shoulders and said: “not normal bikes”, but fellow passengers were helpful. By taking the handle bars and pedals off the triplet, and with many helping hands, we managed to get all our gear and the bikes on the train with only a few minutes delay.

Arriving in Munich we found a hostel close to the station. I loved hearing the boys chatting with some early twenty backpackers at the hostel, talking about where we’d been and what we’d done, as well seasoned travellers without worrying about age difference.

The next night the sleeper train took us from Munich to Arnhem (the Netherlands) were the weather was a bit of a shock to the system. The shock to the system didn’t stop there. The time off the bikes, the travelling with the bikes on trains, and the difficulty they pose when things don’t go as planned had made us doubt our continuation plan, again! We’ve always said we would be flexible about our route and destination. We always said we would see how things would go and make decisions as and when needed. But to actually be that flexible was actually quite hard. After 4 months on our tandem and triplet we knew deep down that we had to abandon the tandem and triplet. The squabbles on the back of the triplet were getting too frequent and too stressful, the boys were getting bored on the back of the bikes. It wasn’t fun anymore. Was this the end of our trip? It was a hard pill to swallow, after years of dreaming. As our house in the UK is rented out till June, we had to look for another place. We found an idyllic looking cottage in Scotland, ideal in every way, and thought maybe fate had provided this opportunity. Sad about the end of our travels but hopeful about a good outcome we went back to Scotland. If the Dutch weather had been a shock to the system, the Scottish weather was worse. The next day we viewed to cottage and were in for another shock. Although the surroundings were great, the cottage itself was not. All five of us immediately felt it wasn’t for us. Strangely enough it wasn’t as big a disappointment as you might expect. It was exactly what we need to spur us on to find our next destination. After all this, suddenly the decision was quickly made to retire the bikes for now, take up our backpack and fly off to Thailand for 2 months. We have 2 more weeks in Scotland to catch up with family and friends, and then we are off again. It has been a long process, and a steep learning curve, but we are now very much looking forward to our next adventure. Thailand here we come!

Hey folks, just to let everyone know that we’ve not cycled off the edge of the world!

We’re still hanging in there but getting a bit of down time and space to recharge and plan the next part of the adventure.

Seeya all out there again soon.

Now Merlijn & I are back in the euro zone we went and got some more cash out. Think we got quite a good exchange rate for the pound.

A lovely afternoon with our host Mladen, with Croatian coffee, homemade grass schnapps, walnut liquor, wine, beautiful smoked ham and bacon, crusty bread, and topped off with interesting conversation.

Paden’s new love: rowing. Elaine Hopley, he says he might one day follow your example and do the Atlantic Row.

We’ve managed to find another cracking place to stay: a simple old motley patchy apartment with a ton of atmosphere and a very welcoming host. A grapevine covered patio with the sweetest grapes, an amazing evening view of the bay, a roaring fire in the outdoor fire place, and a home-made bottle of wine make this another great addition to our long list of amazing travel experiences and memories. Feeling grateful!

After sitting out the deluge on the first day we found puddles had appeared in many places on the back roads. Made for interesting riding.

A few good but hard days from Zadar to Split.
With sun, rain, headwinds and company.

3 days of cycling from Zadar to Trogir and a ferry from Trogir to Split to avoid an otherwise unavoidable motorway section into Split. Riding the coastal road is a string of amazing views, one beautiful view followed by an even better one.

Yesterday’s ride. A driech morning followed by a torrential downpour, and a sunny afternoon. We nearly adopted the dog that shared our shelter but its owner came looking for it so we were reassured to know it had a home. (The video doesn’t look nearly as impressive as it was in reality.)

It was easy to keep smiling. 8mm (although I looked more like 8cm) of rain fell in maybe half an hour. We had gotten ourselves under cover just before it started hosing down and we had lovely company. In the UK 8mm of rain would have been a miserable day, here it’s still warm and it dries off very quickly. We don’t mind rain like that...

Kester found a piece of history on the beach... they came back shouting: we found something that is 25 years old! (We’ve just learned it’s possibly 25 years old to the date as the battle of Zadar was fought between 16 September and 5 October 1991 when a cease fire agreement was reached)

We’ve managed to find another cracking place to stay: a simple old motley patchy apartment with a ton of atmosphere and a very welcoming host. A grapevine covered patio with the sweetest grapes, an amazing evening view of the bay, a roaring fire in the outdoor fire place, and a home-made bottle of wine make this another great addition to our long list of amazing travel experiences and memories. Feeling grateful!

Some pics of the boys fishing catches and beach finds. (Only took pics of the ones we put back as was going to get a pic of all the ones we were going to eat at the time of cooking but ate them before I remembered.)

30-09 2016
Iain and the two oldest spent another day fishing (with result!) and I had an afternoon in town with the youngest pedaller. Precious one-on-one time not often had. A real treat for both him and me!

To Zadar by ferry, then a few days exploring things like ice cream shops, and sea life.

On Monday while we were waiting for the ferry in Mali Lošinj we met some cycle tourers. They happened to go on the same ferry. The trip that we had dreaded a little (mostly because of its late arrival in Zadar but also because of its duration, how do we entertain the boys for so long) suddenly became interesting, relaxed and easy. It was brilliant meeting like-minded people, all with lots of interesting stories and exciting experiences. Gabrielle and Xavier from France are travelling with their two girls for 6 months (for those who are interested in touring with kids, see: En sortant de l’école), and Eugen from Switzerland is a solo cycle tourer who’s heading to Albania.

It was so lovely chatting to them all. Stories were shared, kids played (the language barrier not hindering them at all), and time flew. Before we knew it we arrived in Zadar close to 11pm. We said goodbye to Gabrielle and family at the dock, and Eugen came with us as we had a spare sofa bed in our apartment.

The next day Eugen headed off while we prepared to explore Zadar. We then coincidently met him again in town where he made a fantastic picture of the five of us (we don’t have many of them so much appreciated).

The rest of the day we explored Zadar. We listened to and the boys investigated the sea organ. The old town is beautiful with its old churches. We also saw a building under renovation, pictures showed the damage after the war. The bullet holes and damage caused by shells is still visible when you look carefully. It brought “history” very close, and the boys were shocked to hear how recent it has been.
We’re liking Zadar and are taking some more time here. The boys have been fishing and actually managed to catch some fish although nothing for our tea yet. A visit to a reasonably priced big international sport/outdoor chain has now added snorkel gear to our kit. We got away lightly with the snorkel gear, the boys were eyeing up the harpoon guns.

We all love Croatia. The question if we can home educate here (the boys’ main criterion for making a place eligible for a more permanent stay) has already been asked. K reckons you can learn a whole lot here as there is so much nature and living will be cheap as you can go fishing, collect mussels, and have fig, pomegranate and kiwi trees in your garden. In his opinion that’s all you need. I think he’s not far of the truth.

Last night’s late arrival in Zadar by ferry. Today we’re exploring Zadar, another lovely town in Croatia. For anybody who hasn’t been to Croatia: don’t miss out on the amazing country. (I can recommend going in the low season.)

Waiting for the ferry from Mali Lošinj to Zadar.

To Cres and beyond.

After our short break from the bike and sitting out the rain in Omišalj we set off again on Tuesday to cycle to the ferry from Krk to Cres.

After a short ferry crossing we began our slow 7 km climb up from the ferry port to the ridge of the island, and then a lovely descent into Cres village on the other side of the island. We arrive late at the campsite and after throwing up the tent we had a meal at the campsite restaurant.

The next day we explored Cres and indulged in another meal out to taste the local sea food. We bought a fishing rod in the hope we might catch our own meal one day, and in the meantime it’s great entertainment for the boys. They’ve been practising lots already and caught one fish so far but it was spikey and they decided to set it free again in case it was poisonous.

It was another cool animal to add to the fantastic fauna and flora list. So far it includes: scorpion, bear, lizard, two snake species (dead ones unfortunately, one tiny unidentified one and one huge four-lined snake of at least 1.5m), wasp spider, big millipede, sea cucumber, sea urchin, hermit crabs, crabs, hummingbird hawk-moth, hornet, jay, and the latest two impressive sightings were two golden eagles and three griffon vultures. On the cool flora list are olive trees, fig trees and pomegranate tree.

We are now in Osor, tomorrow we cycled further to the south of Lošinj to catch the ferry to Zadar on Monday.

Some other pics of in and around Omišalj, Croatia

Sight-seeing in Omišalj

A late addition of pictures from out trip from Austria to Croatia.

A good climb up and over the Dinaric Alps yesterday followed by an initially exhilarating and swooping down hill that came to an end when we hit a gravel road and continued to be the hardest downhill I’ve ever done. The moment we had spotted the sea, woops of joy were sounding all-round even though we still had a bit to go. The view of the island, Krk, and the bridge we had to cross to get there were hazy but exciting nevertheless. The nearest campsite however was in ruins and I lacked the energy to push any further after a tiring uphill and a possibly even more exhausting downhill. So we set off to look for an “apartman”, not a difficult task as all most every home offers an apartment. The difficulty lay in our number which not many seem to cater for. However we landed ourselves a brilliant apartment, sleeping 6, for the same price as some others had asked for one double bed (€50 per night!) The apartment has a view over the Adriatic Sea which is a gorgeous clear blue. Sea urchins are everywhere, so swimming and paddling in keens is required.

Olive and fig trees are everywhere and the land has the dry arid look I love so much. Today we cycled into town and we realised how lovely it is to be here off season. There are few tourists to be seen and normal life seems to have resumed. So far no regrets going to the coast.

Boys made an ingenious fishing device (didn’t manage to catch anything though), and built a raft. I actually had a swim, though you have to take my word for it, no photographic evidence unfortunately. It was lovely.

First impression of Croatia: WOW!

After we were dropped off at Delnice we cycled 7 km to Lokve where I had booked an apartment for a couple of nights (not much dearer than our most expensive campsite).

The landlady welcomed us with a delicious home brew of blueberries. The apartment is simple, but we can cook ourselves and the village is lovely and tranquil, and the surroundings are stunning.

We spend the remainder of the afternoon (after a major hand wash in the shower tub, still needs to be done) at the reservoir just outside the village. Tomorrow we’ll explore the local cave and probably spend another afternoon at the waterside.

So, into country number 9 we go (with a little assistance over the steep hills).
Hello Croatia.

A wonderful afternoon at Kocevsko Jezero, forgetting all about bears (me that is, the kids weren’t bothered anyway). Tomorrow we’re getting a lift to Delnice, Croatia (country #9, we’re still counting ??). Once there we can avoid the busy roads and the climbing should be doable. Looking forward to exploring Croatia!

Yesterday we left Ljubljana and headed off to see more of the countryside. We had the choice a medium climb on a busier road or a big climb on back roads. We decided to get away from the busier road and take our time to see more of little villages and forests. We wanted to wild camp anyway and liked to slow down a bit to enjoy this amazing country.

Just at the start of a BIG uphill through the woods on unpaved roads we found a place to camp. We had our tea and by 8 pm we were all in our sleeping bags. The boys snored contently though the night whereas Iain and I spend a restless night listening to all the wild noises outside. The fact we were now in bear country was on my mind.

Of course nothing happened and this morning we set off, pushing the bikes up the hill for 5 hours. It was hard going on the loose gravel.

We had lunch where we thought we were just under top of the climb. The boys discovered little scorpions and their day was made.

After lunch we set off pushing again for another hour till we finally really hit the top of the hill

The gravel was still very loose and on the downhill I found stuff had bounced out of handle bar bag. I found my little Vishnu (again!) but my penknife was nowhere to be seen. I had an idea where it could have fallen out, so I walked back up the hill and down the other side.

Suddenly a big hairy dog came lumbering around a corner, except it wasn’t a big dog but a little brown baby bear. I froze for a split second to see if it saw me and when it didn’t I legged it back up the hill as fast as I could, I wasn’t going to hang around to see if mama bear was anywhere close by. In my run I picked up some rocks just in case and started tapping them together. Out of breath I got back over the hill glad see Iain walking towards me but anxious to get back to the boys who were left on their own with the bikes. The ride down the hill was adrenaline fuelled.

Tonight we are in a hotel and am not sure if I want to wild camp anymore, not in bear country anyway.

Two nights ago enjoying the Ljubljana evening.

More Ljubljana... a lovely place.
Ljubljana by night... impossible to catch on camera, but what an amazing atmosphere!

I really should remember to make more pictures. This is the only picture of today. Another stop picking apples from a “wild” tree. We’ve done lots of gathering today. First the boys gathered at least half a kilo of carrots left after the farmer’s harvest. Followed by half a kilo of apples of a wild tree. Next P spotted a wild plum tree along the road and we gathered loads of lovely small sweet yellow mirabelle plums.

At least it offsets the cost of our stay in Ljubljana a bit. The boys first hostel experience. It’s in the centre of town and there’s a lovely atmosphere and hustle and bustle. So far Slovenia, and especially Ljubljana proves to have a great bike culture. Tomorrow we’ll be exploring in and around town.

First night in a new country, decided to head to a campsite.
Tent up, dinner being cooked. And complimentary schnapps to enjoy.
So which direction next...?

Made it!

Slowly getting there. Only 1.3 km and 175 m up to get to Loibltunnel.

A long overdue update. We’ve had a bit of a break after the last post. So what have we been up to? After the expensive campsite experience we got in touch with another bike family who we’ve been in touch with via Facebook for probably a year before setting off, and who also happen to be warm showers hosts. We got in touch with them and they were happy to receive us once family guests had left. Instead of cycling up to the Ampezzo Pass we cycled down to Sillian where we stayed on a campsite for two days. It was great to meet Peter and son for the first time after so many online exchanges. He arranged a “wild” camping spot in their local play park where we had running water and a long drop toilet where we could stay till they had space in their house again. We then also met Petra and daughter. They welcomed us as old friends. We stayed with them for a long while waiting for parcels to arrive as our thermarest had failed and two tent poles had broken. In the meantime we rested, we hiked and researched.

Thermarest delivery was incredibly fast, but the tent poles were stuck in the UK due to slow processing of the order, weekend, and bank holiday. Peter and Petra generously hosted us for all that time, and on the last day when we really didn’t want to wait any longer we packed our stuff and hoped the all-important parcel would arrive that day. It was a long wait but finally at 14h it was delivered. The courier probably has never seen people so excited receiving a package. We set off soon after, excited to be on the road again, saying farewell to new friends, and full of tips and information that you can only get from well-travelled bike tourers.

After about 100 metres we were stopped by a very stern looking police officer. Quickly I checked helmets, lights and rear view mirror were all in place and even contemplated whether we’d gone over the speed limit (it was downhill but over such a short distance not even our heavy bikes were up to speed yet). I had no idea why we’re being stopped and the officer was not very informative either. He just barked for “Ausweis”, asked where we came from, where we’d slept and where we were going. After he checked the passports we were allowed to continue, being none the wiser. Not smile from the officer.

After that strange intermezzo back on the bike we managed 50 km despite setting off at 14.30h. With Peter and Petra’s tips in mind we found a great wild camping spot where we set up the tent just after 19h. At 20h it was pitch dark, it was great being back in the tent again. The following morning we managed to set off at 8.15h due to leaving most stuff packed and on the bike ready to go. We did 66 km and found another wild camp spot, just when I was wondering if we hadn’t missed our chance and worrying we were in an area too build up and too close to Spittal to offer many more opportunities till we’d crossed it.

The next day was forecasted dry till 20h, but at 17h it started hosing down. In no time we were soaked despite waterproof clothes and pretty desperate. We headed for the nearest campsite but once we arrived a pension was available for 2 days. Shivering in the cold and damp, and with next day’s forecast in mind, more thunderstorms and rain, we gave in.

Typically the next day, that is yesterday, was mostly dry and sunny. However it gave us the time to send back more weight (mam, hopelijk ontvang je ons tweede pakje ook) and to decide on our route: the Loibltunnel into Slovenia When biked off this morning it started raining again and it basically rained the whole day. We had lunch under the porch of a police station. We were still heading towards the Loibltunnel when Iain thought to check warm showers hosts in the area. Tonight we have kindly be received by Angelika and Horst in their home with the most amazing view, which we reached after a 200 metre climb over 3.5 km. I was glad they had offered to take the luggage and the boys. Unfortunately they already had plans for tonight and after a warm shower and a wonderful diner we have been left in the house and been ordered to make ourselves at home. Pretty amazing!

Second day on the road after a long stay with friends in Austria. Second night wild camping. Yesterday we started off with 50 km day after leaving at 14.30ish (we’d been waiting for tent poles to turn up, bet the courier never seen people so excited after delivering a parcel). Today we did 66 km, obviously we still are going mostly downhill. We even had a long and lazy break in the middle of the day. Looking forward to my bed now though, and boys are waiting for Tiuri (secret of the wild wood - Tonke Dragt). Night night!

Peeling frenzy trying to keep up with Padens rapid chopping. Even two of them couldn’t beat him.
Mashed tatties for tea with Merlijn, Peter & Petra

Hi all, just to let you all know we’re all staying with new friends in Ausservillgraten in Austria. Today Iain is up the hill with Peter to repair some paths and earns some money. Petra and I are taking the 5 kids for a hike. We’re probably staying here for another 4 or 5 days.

Love to you all! IMPKEs

When you wait for 40 min to use the washing machine, sitting 4 metres from the reception door and when you finally go over to remind them you want access to the washing machine to then be told you should have been at the machine 20 minutes ago, and your time slot has past now. Even though she must have seen you waiting as she was serving coffee to people next to you , but obviously didn’t want to bother giving you a warning when she walked out if the reception or when you didn’t turn up at the laundry place (around the corner, 20 m walk) realise you didn’t know (because you weren’t told) and just come over and tell you. And now, an hour and a half later the washing machine is still empty, just as it was this morning when you initially asked, and you really are out of any clean clothes. AAAARRRGGGH!!!!

The 30 km ride from Sterzing to Brixen was one full of unexpected discoveries. Leaving the campsite we headed straight to the weighbridge that we noticed the previous day. The figures, though maybe not very accurate, were impressive. Fivegoforth (that is the 5 of us, tandem, triplet, and trailer, and all our luggage) weighs a whopping 360 kg. ?? To break that down: Iain and I are each pushing 120 kg of bike, kids and luggage up the hills. At the next uphill I wished I didn’t know, especially since on the tandem I can only offload one kid.

Not far from Sterzing we noticed some doorways in what looked to be ordinary rock at first glance. Since we were just on a slow uphill stretch (120 kg each!), and the sun was already hot, we didn’t mind a short break and the boys started exploring.

Iain soon noticed it wasn’t natural rock at all, but poured concrete, made to look like natural rock. The entrance besides the cycle path was blocked. P then found another entrance much higher up the slope, concealed from view. It proved to be the top of a long narrow spiral staircase, spiralling 74 steps straight down into the hill, and it revealed to be a huge underground bunker with lots of corridors, a big hall, loads small side rooms and even a toilet. An amazing find.

Half way the afternoon we were getting close to our destination of Brixen and passed Franzenfeste, supposedly the secret storage place of Nazi gold. The sun was relentless by that time so we decided it was a good place to get away from the sun and visiting it now would save us a uphill slog to see it on our rest day.

The fort was really interesting. It not only gave a great deal of historic info about the fort itself, but there were also various exhibitions that kept the boys interest for hours.

In the early evening we rolled out of the gate again and made our way to the campsite at Vahrner See near Brixen, where we had a rest day doing shopping and lounging in the sun at the side of the freezing cold water. Here we also met various other cycle tourers with whom we played leap frog for the next two days catching up in the evening at the same campsites first near Bruneck, and finally at Toblacher See after which we parted ways. I hope they have a great trip. (Sarah, if you read this, could you please get in touch. Love to hear how you guys have gotten on.)

Our arrival at Toblacher See campsite started off with a misunderstanding about viewing the site and we were immediately told that we could leave if we didn’t want to follow their rules. Great people skills!

Since we didn’t want to go back downhill to the other campsite we decided to register. Once that was done, I asked for the price per night and was told the price list was at the door I could calculate it myself. Real customer service!
My calculation was a bit of a shock to the system: €57.50 pn (small tent). In disbelief I asked if I made the right calculation. It wasn’t, it should have been €64.50 (big tent) + €2.20 (tourist tax). I expressed my disbelief and I joked: does that include breakfast and do you guys come and make our beds? The guy didn’t have a sense of humour and we were again told we should leave because they didn’t want unhappy campers.

This is where Iain had to step in to calm things down and I had to bite my tongue. At that time we were still aiming to go over the Ampezzo Pass the next day, so we didn’t want to go downhill to a different campsite. In hindsight we should have left, but hey you live and learn.

This morning we headed downhill instead of over the Pass. After getting in touch in the evening with another bike family, with whom we’ve been in contact via Facebook for a while already, we decided to change direction and head into Austria to hopefully catch up with them. Looking forward to meeting them!

Currently at Tassenbach, and probably staying put for a while.

Apparently this was just like eating at the scout camps according to E, but just there would be MUCH bigger pots of food agreed P.

Uncensored pictures for family and friends - with Iain Airth

Anybody who thinks cycle touring is hard work? Think about it this way: I just tidied the whole house, sorted everybody’s clothes, made the beds, cleaned the kitchen, sorted the food cupboard, set the table for breakfast and swept the floor in half an hour.

We left Austria on a bit of a low. The campsite in Vols, near Innsbruck, had been extremely expensive, and the owner had the cheek to act as if he was giving us a good deal for €45 per night (he said it normally was €55 for 5). The weather had also turned torrential again, and on top of that Internet was off, making it impossible to check neither warm showers for a warmer and cheaper stay, nor weather forecast. Not knowing what the weather would bring us we decided to just take the chance and take the train to the Brenner Pass, risking it not just being wet but cold as well as wet.

It wasn’t all bad though. The day we had arrived at the Innsbruck campsite, we were spotted by a group of friends (Brits) travelling together in 3 campervans. We were invited to have tea with them, each van making a different curry. They reassured us there would be plenty to go round. After we had a great afternoon at the local swimming pool, the most amazing outdoor pool complex I’ve ever seen, and very affordable too, we went over with some salads and drinks and shared a lovely evening with The Half Niners and their kids. It was a shame they left the next day, but with the weather turning foul, so I don’t blame them.

The day we took the train was, after the morning showers, fine and we had a quick and easy train ride up to the pass. I’d love to bike it one day, but the tandem and triplet are too hard going on steep stretches and 30-something km of ascent seemed more than we can chew.

Arriving in Italy we were immediately charmed by the stern-looking police officer who took one look at our bikes and the stairs and gestured to come with him to cross the railway tracks at ground level. A great start in our 7th country.

The sweeping descent on the cycle track was briefly interrupted by a short stretch on the road, but drivers were courteous and we could keep a decent speed to make it a swift section.

We made it to the campsite near Sterzing easily and found it a lot more reasonably prized. Funny how 2 weeks ago we would have found €30 expensive, but after a week in Austria we are relieved to hear it’s “only” that. We must have been spoilt in France, only paying €20 pn.

Since arriving in Italy the atmosphere is quite relaxed, or possibly we are now slightly more relaxed because it feels that we are now on the south side of Europe. We still have to go over another big climb before reaching Venice but the ascents don’t look as steep as the one going up to Brenner from Innsbruck.

Yesterday we treated the boys to a day of climbing as a change to biking. They surely don’t have a fear of heights, and they were only limited by the height of the cables, especially the littlest team member.

A quick calculation shows we have now done at least a 1000 km on the bikes since setting off from Bridge of Allan 7 weeks ago. I can’t show a nice picture of our bike computers though as we’ve had several glitches and we’re missing about 250 km.

Today we have another rest day, it feels very decadent to have two days off the bikes, especially because we’re not even forced by the weather. It’s been lovely since arriving in Italy. It’s fresh, since we are still at quite an altitude, and therefore our down jackets have finally come in use, but sunny and overall dry. Back on the bike tomorrow, closer to Venice again.

Quick update: we’ve made it into Italy. We’re just on the other side of the Brenner Pass, at Sterzing. Using our down jackets for the first time, a chill in the air. Glad we’ve took them now.

Had a day hiding from the weather but decided to risk a trip into Innsbruck during a dry spell for a look around, while riding into town there was an impromptu burst of speed and we had the triplet up to 40 km/h

Then on the way back the skies opened so it was a race back to the tent.

Quick update: after leaving a rather saturated Innsbruck we’ve made it into Italy. We’re just on the other side of the Brenner Pass, at Sterzing. Using our down jackets for the first time, a chill in the air. Glad we’ve took them now.

Forgot to share this the other day. A quick photo stop at the top of the pass before heading Downhill into country No.6 Austria. (only to be met shortly by a hard push up a steep gravel forestry road...)

Our stunning tent pitch in Austria... at least the Vegas were spectacular.

Yesterday’s ride from Arzbach to Achensee. A long day with lots of uphill pushing. Glad we had lots of rolls with us for three “lunch” breaks (if you count anything between breakfast and dinner as lunch), the last one at 17h. We met a lovely family from Bruxelles and spend the evening with them at the side of the Achensee. A truly stunning view which comes at a cost (of €43.50 pn!!), therefore we’ll be setting off again today. Hope to get to Innsbruck.

A few more pics from our travels so far.

Currently we’re waiting out the rain in the tent at Arzbach campsite. It’s started raining late last night and it’s forecasted to be like this all day. It certainly hasn’t let off yet, and it’s pretty heavy.
Tomorrow and the following days should be good again.

Yesterday it was a lovely, very warm day. The route we’re following is great. Large sections are off road, some of it on unpaved paths. It’s lovely riding through woods, meadows, and hills, hearing cow bells in the distance and watching a horse drawn cart going by. The first glimpse of the Alps was very exciting.

At 3pm we arrived at Bad Tolz and couldn’t refuse the boys a long stop at the Isar to play in the water and go down a rapid, safely caught in daddy’s strong arms before being swept away downstream.

We only packed up again in the early evening to find some food at a small but excellent Italian restaurant. Afterwards we rode the last 7 km to the campsite at Arzbach.

Today we’ve started our Munich to Venice leg of the trip about 560 km. It’s going to be a challenge to say the least. I’m sure we’ll be doing lots of pushing but we’re giving ourselves time. We got a brilliant route description from the tourist office in Munich and later we found an even better one in a gigantic outdoor sports shop (Globetrotter, fantastic shop).

An easy short day today. Arrived here in Wolfratshausen at 3pm and decided to call it a day so we can get into the flow of cycling daily again.

Some train pictures. There are bike compartments on all trains and on most they are huge. We travelled on one train with at least 4 other bikes and several prams. Try doing that in a British train or even a Dutch train.

On our train day from Trier to Munich: after dragging ourselves out of our bags at 6.10 am we managed to roll of the camp site at 7.45. A record time for packing up. Plenty of time to catch the 8.30h train. WOO HOO, well done us!

It’s was going to be a long day with 3 changes to get us to Munich.
The first train we got the bikes on but the triplet was partly in front of the door. By the time someone told us there was a bigger bike compartment on the train there wasn’t enough time left to change so we left it. Everybody was very relaxed about it, even the train conductor.

Arriving at Mannheim, the first change, we frantically rushed to make the next train, hoofing bikes down and upstairs, only to find it wasn’t on. The next train was just an hour later, which made it an even longer day. This time we managed to find the big bike.

The third train, from Heilbronn, we only managed with the help of other bike tourers, a mum, daughter and friend. By blocking the door and helping us throw, literally, the luggage on they saved us from an even longer day as we would surely have missed this train otherwise.

The fourth and last train from Ulm to Munich was relatively easy, we even had normal seats which made the last 2 ½ hours quite comfortable. We arrived in Munich just before 8 pm.

It was 10pm when we managed to have the tent up on the campsite and have a quick meal of pasta with butter and salt and pepper.

The campsite wasn’t much but with such a late night and actually really liking the vibe of München itself we decided to have a rest day here. The day in München was lovely and has been worth it. The Altstadt is wonderful, lively, there is a great vibe. When the boys are older I’d love to come back and explore it in Greater detail. We also found great information on the next route from München to Venice. If I thought the train journey was a challenge this is going to an even bigger one. We’re really looking forward to it.

We’ve arrived in Trier 3 days ago after leaving the campsite in Oberweis on a low note. My phone got stolen while it was charging, thereby confirming our first thoughts: camping from hell. I hadn’t meant to leave the phone (although I have left it on all previous campsites, the vibe wasn’t right here) but I forgot in the commotion and an hour later it was gone.

It’s been quite a hassle, but I don’t want to linger on it anymore.

Trier has been a nice stop to recharge. It’s a great city with its Roman history. We’ve visited the Porta Nigra, the Cathedral and Church of Our Lady, the St. Matthias church, and the Amphitheatre. That and plenty of other interesting buildings and sites that we passed have given us plenty to talk and learn about.

Tomorrow is going to be a challenge. We’ve booked a train to Munich with bikes and all to give us a bit more of a head start getting South. It going to be 8 hours on the train with 3 changes. From Munich we’ll start pedalling again. It’s all about the adventure. ?

(My apologies I haven’t made any pictures with my replacement phone yet. Instead a lovely picture the youngest made of our bikes and trailer including fuel bottles ??)

Hi guys. Just a heads up for you all. M’s phone was stolen yesterday while charging it at the campsite, it had no credit so shouldn’t be able to get any unexpected charges.

We put up posters but not expecting any news of it, not been handed in by the time we left the campsite.

We’re now in Trier (Germany) going to have a few days here to look around the city and hopefully get M a new phone.

Will update you once we’ve got sorted but M will need all your contacts again (addresses & phone numbers).

We’re all good though about to enjoy some restaurant food since we have exhausted our supplies and a long day biking 60 km in rain sun and wind.

Love to all from us all

Paden loving the pool and especially the diving board. Blue lips but going back for more.

On our way from St. Vith to Waxweiler we met some cyclists along the way. We had a chat and went on our way. The next day we found a message in our fb inbox from Stewart Clark with a picture of the five of us. Very much appreciated as we don’t have maybe pictures with all of us in it. All the more remarkable as we didn’t exchange names or fb details. He found us via the fb tandem group. Amazing

Some more pictures...

Time for another wee update. Internet has been sparse for a while. We’re on our third campsite after Monschau. From Monschau we had a nice ride, mostly downhill, to St. Vith. However we still arrived late. After leaving Monschau we passed a post office and sent home some stuff that we haven’t used and don’t expect to use, at least not for a while and we’ve binned other stuff. The hills are making us very critical of what we really need.

After dealing with the post office in Kalterherberg we were forced into hiding for 2 hours from a massive downpour including hailstones of up to 2 cm in diameter. This made it a long day before we arrived in St. Vith. The campsite there wasn’t great but the forecast wasn’t good so we stayed another day to wait out to rain.

After St. Vith we’ve diverted from the Vennbahn and are now making our way to Trier via Prümtal bike route. We stumbled on a nice little quiet campsite near Waxweiler. The boys spend two days in the river looking for and finding fossils. Yesterday we set off again and the first and biggest part of the way rained constantly. For lunch we found shelter in a small village. The riding was nice though. This route is going through villages via small but normal roads instead of an old rain track which makes for more interesting riding and scenery.

The campsite we found has a huge swimming pool which the boys love. But it’s also the only thing it’s got in its favour because to Iain and me it’s a campsite from hell. The spaces are tiny and the whole campsite is overcrowded. The neighbours’ tent is less than a metre away. It doesn’t have character or ambiance, and is hugely overpriced. Whoever this trip is not just about what Iain and I want. We all have to compromise sometimes.

Tomorrow we’ll head for Trier. Hopefully there we can find a local sim card, and a map to take us further into Germany.

Monschau - St. Vith: much more scenic part of the Vennbahn.

We had totally forgotten about Oma’s present for Kesters birthday. One very happy boy! Thank you Oma

Yesterday we set off from Vaals NL to Monschau D. Due to glitches in WiFi I didn’t know the exact distance but was told it was probably about 40 km, and definitely doable. Well, we’re here, so it was doable, though it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t 40 km either. It was closer to 65 km, and we finally arrived around 10 pm.

It was a warm day, and it didn’t start of brilliant. After we climb the only real hill of the day, out of Vaals into Aachen, we stopped to catch our breath. The sun was bright already, and that’s when we noticed we were one pair of sunnies short, left in the playroom. Iain ditched all his gear and raced back to get them. Half an hour later he was back. At that time a fellow tourer also came up the hill and we had a great chat with Daniel before setting off into Aachen.

Luckily we had the GPS to get us through Aachen and we were at the tourist office without much trouble. After getting directions to the Vennbahn at the tourist office and lunch in the park we set off again. It was starting to get very warm already. The initial route was shaded, but the 2% incline was like riding through treacle. About 20 km into the ride I heard a tinkle of metal and thought something must have fallen off my bike. However we couldn’t see anything and continued. 5 km later I studied by bike map again and discovered what had made the metal tinkle: my little Buddha that my mum gave me as a good luck token had fallen out of my map cover. Turning back was not an option, I was very disheartened.

If we hadn’t known today was going to be even hotter we would have settled for a closer campsite. However the promise of a swimming pool drove us and especially the boys on.

Our biggest problem was running low on water. Finally in Roetgen we asked a kind lady for water and we could refill our bottles and we’re given a litre of orange juice and a litre of apple juice as well. Rehydrated and encouraged by such kindness we set off again. We made an impromptu tea by the side of the Vennbahn.

At 10 pm we finally arrived at Perlenau campsite with the promised swimming pool. And the best thing: when I offloaded my front panniers I heard another tinkle of metal on metal, exactly like the tinkle earlier, and there in the grass was my little Buddha. It had travelled on the top of my front pannier for 40 km. It must truly be a lucky charm. Thank you mum (Leontine Van Dijk)!

Yesterday we were the first to turn up on the campsite’s designated “trekkers veld” (hiking field for 2 nights max). It felt a bit lonely, but as the afternoon passed more and more bike tourers turned up, and by the evening there were quite a number of us. It is great hearing everybody’s stories, routes and plans. Learning about the Vennbahn from Aachen to St. Vith we’ve decided that is going to be our next section. I’m more and more excited about our trip. Living it and loving it!

A lovely campsite (but again expensive, as all Dutch campsites seem to be) after a short day which did include a 14% hill. It would have been pleasant riding if it hadn’t been for the Dutch roadies. Compared to Dutch roadies British motorists are bike friendly and polite, and that really says something about the attitude of the Dutch roadies we met today.

Well-earned prize for a short days biking, fresh large cherries from a stall beside the road and fresh apple juice from the farm that has the campsite. Mmmmmmmmm

A walk around an old quarry. And the wild cherries we found, or what is left of them by the time we got back to the tent.

The birthday boy with a slightly collapsed but still a yummy tent made bday cake with pancakes strawberries custard and cream and orange sliced on the side (Paden’s touch). Doesn’t and didn’t keep. Happy birthday Kester!

So our trip has really started. We’ve entered (and temporarily exited) our fourth country: Belgium. The first bike day was smooth but slightly boring along a canal. However it made an easy 70 km. We then had two broken nights in Zonhoven as Elyan suffered from earache. Yesterday we aimed for an easy day to Maastricht but it turned out to become a very long day as we arrived at a campsite at 20.45h. Nevertheless it was a great bike day through forests on paved and unpaved paths. The GPS has proved useful and had regained some of my trust. Using the GPS in combination with a map and our own wits led to a very nice bike route. We stumbled upon a very cool section of cycle path under the water level. Coincidentally I had seen pictures of the place weeks before we left, and thought it would be cool to see. However I didn’t think we’d go that direction and, to be honest, I was too busy with other things to plan anything about the route. What a pleasant surprise to happen across that exact place.

As usual things didn’t go as planned and the campsite we were aiming for was closed. We asked for direction to another campsite. Halfway there we hit the wall. No wonder as it turned out to be 20h. We passed a chip shop and while I was ordering our emergency tea, Iain stayed with the bikes. A man saw us standing outside his house and came to offer the use of his facilities. He offered his front garden for us to sit more comfortably and have our chips. If he’d had a garden suitable for our tent he would have let us camp there. He drew a map of the exact route to a nearer campsite, all the while chatting about his own travels. It was a simple encounter of human kindness, the reason why it like bike travel and the reason why I like my kids to see the world this way. He didn’t do anything extraordinary but it was heart-warming and welcoming. It’s the simple little things that count.

Today we’ll explore the surroundings tomorrow we continue.

Hitting the road again in the morning, the boys doing their press ups to build up some muscle...??

Or actually we’re trying to burn off some energy at bedtime after a sugar laden pudding.

Some maintenance last night an loaded to go again this morning.

Woo hoo, back on the road again.

The Efteling. Reliving my childhood. Amazing to see the boys loving it just as much. A timeless and unique place. With Leontine Van Dijk and Iain Airth.

Paden’s made a video to keep his friend James up to date of his adventures.

We’re having a week off the bike to see family and friends. Exploring the local play park the boys still manage to find little gems of nature.

A few other random photos of our time from departure to arriving in NL.

One of the many 5 a 10 minute stretches of the legs before battling an unrelenting headwind mixed with rain for 65 long km. Not a day for many pictures.

Our bike train is on the ferry.

So so proud of our three boys. We did another 50 km today. A steady rain started when we set off and became a heavy rain by noon. Half way Iain and I were soaked to the bone and the boys, though better dressed for the wet weren’t that much better off. 9 km before our finally destination, the ferry terminal, we had another puncture. While it was in the most convenient place you can wish for, in front of a bike shop (so we had the use of a big track pump), and Iain sorted it fairly quickly, the standing around chilled us to the core. I can honestly say none of the boys voiced any complaints throughout the day. We had warned them in the morning for a wet hard day, and they have risen to the challenge tremendously. However we decided to get to the first accommodation available.

The hotel is a brilliant place, one of former glory. The staff is super friendly and our bikes are safely parked inside, in what used to be a function suite. Just a another 8 km to get to the ferry for tomorrow late afternoon, so an easy day ahead.

In the well wood pub/b&b in Amble, warming up after getting soaked, and accommodation is hard to find further down the road.

Last night’s beach party and today’s lunch spot.

Day 3: our 2nd bike day. Today’s distance 46 km, Edinburgh - Dunbar. It was slightly cooler, and occasionally we had a light shower of rain, but overall a nice day. Thank u Penny Granger for welcoming us in your home and for being our tour guide out of Edinburgh.

The first day was a great start: a cracking day, not too windy, and lots of friendly people along the way. The boys did great. After 67.7 km we finally made it to our destination at 9pm. We were welcomed with an enormous lasagne, roast veggies, salad, a very welcome beer, and a bed to rest our unfit bodies. We’ll be here for the day, to sort out some more stuff, and hopefully get rid of some weight. Tomorrow we’ll continue. Thank you, Penny, for having us.

We’re getting closer, Penny Granger. We might still see u before dark.

Finally we have set off. This morning we waved goodbye to the family, and started on the first leg of our trip. After 4 years of saving and dreaming it still feels slightly surreal. Tonight Edinburgh. Just now a late lunch.

Thank you for all the birthday wishes. It’s going to be a special year I hope. Cleaning and scrubbing wasn’t the ideal way of celebrating my bday, but with any luck I won’t be house cleaning for another year.

Sixteen days to go, and no way back. The house is let from 20 June for 12 months. A big worry out of the way. Now not only can we go, we HAVE to go. A great feeling, no complaints!

We’re all so excited that the time is nearly here. That what we’ve been talking about and saving up for four years, is now only a few weeks away. I can’t wait to be on the road. Very curious how we all will take to it.

However, even if it all comes crashing down, at least we will have had a great big clean-up, and we have minimized our belongings ready to start afresh however or wherever that may be.

A huge thank you to Jonathan Burton of the Campus Travel Clinic at Stirling University for going above and beyond the customary service, for providing us with the latest information on vaccines, for his time to provide a relaxed setting, for answering all our questions, and for his patience with and kindness to our boys who, to say the least, did not like getting jabs. Thank you Jonathan for your extraordinary service!

Phew, time flies when you are having fun, and... when you are getting ready for a yearlong trip. Only 5 weeks to go before “pedal off”. Slowly the house is emptied into charity shops, storage boxes and waste containers. Bike panniers are being filled with all we need for next 12 months. Excitement is mounting.

Happy New Year to you all!

It’s 2016, the year we’ve been looking forward to for nearly 4 years, since we started planning our “big trip”, 2016 seemed so far away, plenty of time... At the time our kids were 4, 2, and 1 year old. We decided that we wanted our youngest to be 5 years old when setting off. Why 5 you ask? We felt that at 5-6 years old E might have some recollection from the trip and build some lasting memories. Another consideration was that we wanted him to actively contribute to the trip, not for our sake, for his. Additionally, an added bonus, it gave us time to save up for this trip. So now here we are in 2016, E will turn 5 this year, K will be 7, and P has recently turned 8. Yikes!

We’ve got a long list of jobs to finish before we can leave. The biggest job is getting the house ready to let. Other jobs are sorting out insurance, vaccinations, banking abroad, getting the last gear (active growing children make for short-lived kit) and plenty of other “wee” jobs. So what was the first thing we did on 1st of January? A bike ride on the tandem and triplet obviously. Hope you all are as excited about this year as we are, for bike tour reasons or others. Have a good one! Merlijn

Launch date set, ferry booked, June 2016. World here we come!

300 mile test ride on tandem and triplet, in sun, rain, and wind, spotting seals, dolphins, and lots of midges, camping wild and staying with family, via beaches and moors, busy towns and deserted clearance villages. The wind and rain finally beat us on our last day of 77 km of head winds. However, we did it, and we loved it!