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Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

That dream of cycling away via the Danube

What's the furthest you've ever cycled? And could you go further? Words from Nicola Baird  (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Bikes with unusual loads, but the paniers have all sorts of potential
for a long journey.
About 10 years after I left university a guy in the year above had a book published about cycling across Chile, Argentina and Bolivia to raise funds for the Leukaemia Reseach Fund. I was so impressed that even another 20 years on, during a recent book clear out I decided to keep his book on my shelves. This was clearly a man who knew something secret about life and tenacity. The trail to Titicaca by Rupert Attlee is a good read too.

Long distance journeys have always been popular. It's a challenging way to grow up, get away from the old you, fit into your skin, explore etc. We all know travel's attraction dating right back to Odysseus (the Greek who gave us the wonderful word odyssey).

Nowadays long distance travel is often more about taking a holiday to push yourself because (good) experiences are more important than possessions. I pretty much agree with that sentiment (especially if it involves low carbon travel and doesn't begin and end with a plane flight), except somehow I've never managed to cycle more than 50 miles in one day. But, I remember that journey with pride as I managed to get from London to Oxford in aid of charity. It was a total killer and at the celebration gig afterwards with the exuberant Bhundu Boys (from Zimbabwe) playing I crashed out asleep. Clearly I wasn't bicycle honed. And yet I've cycled almost every day since I was 16 years old at sixth form, and love the way a bicycle offers freedom and speedy journeys.

No surprise then that I like to read about bike journeys. At the start of 2017 I was hooked by Tim Moore's latest book The Cyclist Who Went Out In the Cold. Tim has a serious track record at pushing himself to do slightly daft - aka challenging - routes. This time he cycles 6,000 miles along the route of the old Cold War front on a tiny-wheeled, two-geared East German-made shopping bike (a MIFA 900). And he starts the journey in the Arctic Circle, in winter: you couldn't make his stories up. It's an inspiring read, often funny and good for your Cold War knowledge (well it's helped mine)...

When you see a cycle book and think
that could be me out there...
The perseverance travel bug kicks in fast.

Inspired by Tim Moore's cycle journeys up the Alps, and along historic borders I'm now looking closely at The Danube Cycleway (volume 2), published by long distance travel guide specialists Cicerone, thinking could I? Could I get on my bike and pedal from Budapest to the Black Sea (this is the end part of Europe's second longest river)?

My guidebook isn't dog-eared yet, but I've read a few of the recommended stages and feel it's possible. I think it helps having a cyclist in glasses gracing the front cover who looks rather like a government ad to get more women active ("still slow, still lapping the couch"). That woman could be me. Or it could be me when I've got just a few less childcare responsibilities. Unless of course I can talk my youngest teenager into joining me...

The Danube Cycleway (Volume 1 and 2) are extremely detailed, but not that huge. Which is why they recommend taking additional more detailed maps for Hungary, Croatia, Serbia and Romania and provide info about where to find those formal maps. I feel the Cicerone approach really works for an armchair traveller (who might well become the real thing) - as it helps you imagine (and potentially plan) every detail from what to wear to how to get your bike to the starting point. There are some great tables which show the mileage, likely timings, location of cycle shops and accommodation. This kind of info isn't in Tim Moore's book - it makes his ability to cycle such challenging routes seem extra brilliant - but it clearly saves hours of research. It's still going to be hard work doing the route planning (eg, around weather, where to stay and language).

I have real problems looking at maps and seeing their world. Guide books make it a bit easier to imagine the terrain, people and even sunlight. Nothing beats being there, but in order to decide where to be these handy Cicerone guides take me a lot closer to a 3D imagining! And perhaps it's almost a sign that the last person to cut my hair grew up in Budapest...

More tellingly both Tim Moore's book and the Danube Cycleway make Romania look the sort of country I would adore visiting, even if Romanian dogs are clearly not keen on cyclists.

The Danube Cycleway (vol 2 from Budapest to the Black Sea) by Mike Wells (Cicerone, £16.95)

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