Novi Sad, Serbia’s second largest city!

After a long bus ride, we arrived yesterday in Novi Sad. There wasn’t a lot of sun hours left, so we walked quickly to our hotel, checked in, and headed straight out into town. Luckily, we stayed at a (cheap!) hotel right outside the historic town centre.

In fact, by the time we got out, the sun was gone. But that’s OK – cities look great at night!

Novi Sad was formerly part of the Austro-hungarian Empire and you can tell by the architecture. It’s easily the nicest city I’ve been to so far in Serbia and it’s been named a European Capital of Culture for 2021.

There are a lot of Catholic churches in town, although some have been converted to Orthodox, it seems. Austria is Catholic, so there used to be a lot of Catholics living here. You can tell a lot of money goes into preserving this old town and it could easily be any old town in Germany!

Of course, the best part about being downtown in Serbia is easy access to popcorn!

There are always people popping fresh popcorn, also in Niš and Belgrade. Why have other countries not adopted this amazing innovation? All I know is, only a fool would pass up fresh popcorn. I’m no fool.

We continued on, popcorn in hand, to Dunavski Park, on the way to the river. There we found an unexpected final Christmas market for our journey.

We didn’t eat anything but it was interesting to check out what the Serbs sell at a Christmas market – amazing and fresh doughnuts!

We continued on to the river and decided to cross the bridge to the old Petrovaradin Fortress.

Not a very good photo but it was night and sometimes lights aren’t good. I didn’t know if I was dooming Jelena to a big climb but it turned out to be not too bad and actually kind of cool.

The views from the top were alright but there aren’t any nice buildings along the river. I don’t know the story behind that but I assume they got destroyed in the world wars or some wars before that or maybe they just never built the city to the river.

Sadly, the bridges in this photo were previously destroyed by NATO in 1999 and the furthest one only reopened in 2018!

We decided to take a break and enjoy the view from the fortress in one of several restaurants within.

I had a hot chocolate and Jelena an orange juice and coffee. It was a nice way to spend a bit of the evening, before making our way back to the hotel.

Along the way, we grabbed a pizza from a place we had spotted earlier. Weirdly (but not so weirdly for Serbia), every pizza came with ketchup. Yes, ketchup. Serbs often squirt ketchup on their pizza for some crazy reason! Luckily, this “ketchup” seemed to be more like extra tomato dipping sauce and we did not use it.

It was so good that I instantly regretted not getting a bigger size. Now I know where to eat next time I’m in Novi Sad!

We also got some water with a high pH value, which, according to Miloš (our driver from Zagreb to Niš), is very heathy – but I’m pretty sure that’s pseudo-science…

The hotel even had some soap and shampoo with a truly great name, even if it was missing a t…

This morning, we had a decent but not great hotel breakfast with a pretty nice view.

And now we are on the bus to Budapest, our final destination before we have to get back to everyday life! We’re going to savour every last moment.


Niš to Novi Sad

After a relaxing stay in Niš, it’s finally time to head home. It feels a little like the end of my bike trip, except instead of biking all day every day, I’ve been eating (that didn’t stop me from one last Burek breakfast). I’m actually looking forward to taking a rest from the gorgefest… but not before we make two stops along the way – in Novi Sad and Budapest.

We’re taking the Niš-ekspres to Novi Sad, a city in northern Serbia. The bus is a bit older but it is actually comfortable enough. The only bad thing is they locked the toilet because they’re too lazy to clean it. Maybe they’ll have to clean my seat!

Stay tuned for more on Novi Sad and Budapest!

The Road to Serbia: Day 3&4 – Zagreb to Niš

We had another lazy, no-alarm morning – this time in Zagreb. The bed was comfortable enough and we were in no rush to be anywhere at all. I found 2 possible bakeries and, luckily, I forgot where the first one was because the second one was really great! We got croissants and sandwiches for breakfasts and some baguettes and “cruffins” for later.

I worked on the previous blog post and we lazed about before finally setting out to grab some more bread and groceries and then to hit the Zagreb farmer’s market!

We picked up some gnocchi, tomato sauce, and grated cheese for our Christmas Eve dinner. A bit unconventional but we didn’t have a lot of options and since this was from a stand selling fresh pasta on the market, we thought it was a good option. To that, we also added some pickled and spicy peppers. I bought some salami for the next day’s breakfast as well.

On top and outside is an open-air market, with fruits, vegetables, and nuts. We didn’t get anything but did take a look around, of course! Jelena pointed out the cheap, shelled nuts, which would cost a fortune in Germany.

Lunchtime was already here, so we dropped off our finds and headed to the Christmas market for some stew. It was some specialty with liver and chicken. It was a tasty (not the liver so much) cold-weather choice – the warm bread too!

Next, we went for a dessert victory lap. First, we got a fried dough thingy called Languš.

Oops… we were too greedy and ate almost everything before we thought to take a photo. We are bad food bloggers. Just imagine that was the size of the plate.

Then we continued with Germknödel and some more frittule. I’m not a big fan of Germknödel (it’s popular at German Christmas markets) but Jelena hadn’t tried it before. In my opinion, it tastes like a ball of wallpaper in paste. The frittule also weren’t great but they were good enough. Fried dough is always good.

After our gorgefest, we walked around town a bit, to see some parts we hadn’t seen yet, including the state theatre.

We did some more shopping while we were out and discovered this hilariously tacky Christmas market by the train station.

It was red and green, with English quotes from Christmas songs. Yes, that is a Christmas tree made out of tires. But it was the only market consistantly playing Christmas music!

We headed back to the apartment for a break and to drink some tea and coffee – and eat some of the cruffins!! The eating party wasn’t over yet.

Later, we started our Christmas Eve dinner!

It was actually really good. The baguette was still fresh enough and soaked up the sauce well. It was no fondue but it was a good meal. We put on Croatian TV for some background Christmas music.

After dinner, we discovered Home Alone was on and watched some of that. As the movie was coming to an end, I realised I hadn’t mailed Natalia’s Zagreb postcard yet and it already had a stamp on it. It was now past 10 but we saw online that the train station had a post office and went to put it in the box. We were shocked to discover the post office itself was open until midnight on Christmas Eve!! Those poor workers.

We got a good sleep but set the alarm, so we could have breakfast before heading out to meet our rideshare to Niš.

Jelena fried the bread in the pan (no toaster), and we broke out the Slovenian vending machine cheese and Croatian market salami. It was a good breakfast! The cheese was soft but not too strong. The salami had a nice taste.

We took an Uber to a mall by the highway and met Miloš, a fellow Serb who lives in Graz and was heading home to the next town over from Niš. It was a very long day of driving (9:30 – 4:30) but it went fairly quickly because Miloš was very friendly and interesting to talk to! He was also a good driver – very important!

One last surprise was in store for the day. Jelena’s mom prepared turkey legs, in recognition of my Christmas!! Jelena’s sister and her family joined us to eat! So, I had a family dinner with turkey for Christmas Day after all.

There were turkey legs, with potatoes roasted in the pan. Before that, we had soup and the normal Serbian things, like cheese, ajvar, pickled peppers, spicy peppers, bread, and Jelena’s mom’s homemade Sauerkraut.

I planned the Road to Serbia to go through Catholic countries to get a taste of Christmas along the way. Who could have guessed Vienna would get rained out or that Croatia would be missing the Christmas spirit but that it would be waiting for me at the end of that road? Alternate title for this story: How the Serbs Saved Christmas.

So I’m in Serbia now until next year. Then we will be making another journey home, this time over Novi Sad and Budapest. In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying Serbian food and hospitality. Maybe I’ll write the final cycling post! Otherwise, stay tuned for next year’s adventures.

The Road to Serbia: Day 3 – Zagreb

We woke up in Ljubljana refreshed! Since the bus wasn’t until 10:45, I didn’t set any alarm and woke up naturally some time before 8. Jelena was still sleeping, so I brushed my teeth and slipped out for a stroll to the market.

Ljubljana market

Although I read a lot of good things about the market, I thought it was a bit of a snooze. There was a good selection of fruits and vegetables but that was it. Probably a lot of the vendors were on holiday already. However, there was one cool thing I read about on reddit!

Milk vending machine in Ljubljana

It’s a “Milkomat” – a milk vending machine! You can get fresh milk from the farm. That is pretty neat… is what I’d be saying if I liked milk! Also, beside the milk machine was another vending machine.

Cheese from a vending machine

This one had cheese, yoghurt, and various other stuff. I got some young cheese, which I thought Jelena might enjoy! We haven’t tried it yet. It’s currently in the fridge of our Zagreb airbnb.

Next I walked around town to pick up a postcard for Natalia and mail it and then to grab some water for the bus ride. I headed back to the hotel in time for Jelena to be just getting out of the shower and ready for breakfast!

Ljubljana City Hotel breakfast

They had a pretty good offer, except that the bacon was not cooked well enough. Boo! But the sausages were really good and the brown bread was also fresh and tasty. I even had some horrible prunes, to please Jelena and to try to counter all the junk I was about to block my system with. (it didn’t work)

Filled up with the hotel buffet, we returned to our room, packed up, and headed to our FlixBus to Zagreb. Actually, the bus was pretty much brand new and fairly comfortable. It had a toilet and WiFi, with chargers for your phone or laptop. There were also nice sights of the Slovenian countryside out the window.

Our airbnb host in Zagreb recommended some different places to eat and shop. We selected the “grandma” style restaurant, which was right around the corner. She also suggested something modern but we wanted something authentic and time tested! The place reminded me a lot of a Serbian kafana and it was quite crowded. I think they crammed in too many tables. We ordered some things our host suggested and also some other things.


First up was Štrukle, a cheese-filled pasty, which is first boiled and then fried or baked. There is also a version that is boiled only but ours was baked or fried – we weren’t totally sure. Jelena thought it was good. I thought it was kind of a less good version of cheese burek but it was still tasty.

Croatian food

Then came all the food! We got mashed potatoes, veal paprikaš (a stew), roast duck, and mlinci. Of course, Jelena also got a cabbage salad to go on the side! It was all very tasty, except for the mlinci, which tasted like very overcooked pasta. I don’t know if it’s a bad dish or if the recommendation was bad but we probably won’t try it again. The mashed potatoes were really good and so was the stew. The bread was also perfect for mopping up the stew! The duck was annoying to get off the bone but had a really good flavour. All in all, this was a very successful lunch.

After our bodies had some time to cope with the aftereffects of such a feast, we walked a bit around town to burn off one or two percent of the calories we’d consumed and to check out how long the supermarket was open. We went back for a rest at the apartment because neither of us had been feeling 100% in the last couple days, probably a combination of the travelling and our immune systems fighting off an onslaught of germs from the many trains and buses we’d taken.

Evening came and we set out to discover the Zagreb Christmas markets.

Zagreb Christmas market with music

We found one that was centred around a giant gazebo thingy, with live music in the middle. The booths all around had sausages, mulled wine, and pastries, but they also each had one unique special dish from Croatia. Jelena went for some kind of salty pastry for dinner but I reserved myself for a sausage with melted cheese and garlic a little later and at another location.

In an effort to expand my readership to also include New Liskeard, I took this video of a guy singing Coldplay. I got a little bored before the main chorus came, though. Whoops!

We continued on to explore the rest of the markets around town!

Me and Jelena

Jelena took this one – maybe it’s better to be short!

Christmas tree and Zagreb Christmas market

I liked this Christmas tree! It was well-decorated!

Over all, things look very nice in Zagreb. Beautiful buildings and well-decorated Christmas markets… but they are missing the Christmas spirit somehow. A lot of the time, they are blasting extremely loud party music, rather than any kind of Christmas music, and some parts were actually too loud to allow slow browsing or drinking of a hot chocolate. Although, I did get a hot chocolate! The live music was nice but the blasting of bad music on the speakers was not so great. I think they don’t really have a tradition of Christmas or Christmas markets here and made them more like commercialised party festivals.

Don’t get me wrong – we had a great day and a nice evening. The Christmas market just wasn’t as great as it could have been! Oh, I forgot to mention that the sausage with cheese and garlic was amazing, one of the best things I’ve eaten so far on the trip. It was so greasy that I had to wash my hands immediately after. Jelena was not impressed by that!

And so ended day 3. Now we’ve got another day to relax in Zagreb and to check out the markets in the daylight. (sans music)

The Road to Serbia: Day 2 – Ljubljana

It was another early morning to make another early train. We arose at 6:30am, brushed our teeth and headed to the Vienna main train station to get some breakfast. We got some smoothies for vitamins and a few sandwiches. They were good but, sorry, no photos!

The train was at 7:58, so we had time to enjoy our sandwiches a little before heading to the platform and finding our seats. We got a cabin with window seats! There was a nice family in the other four seats next to us.

It was a good train ride with interesting scenery. We snaked our way up the mountains and even passed a castle!

Unfortunately, a combination of the window, bad photography skills, and fog means you probably can’t see it on the bottom left of this photo. Well, I enjoyed it!

Actually, it got pretty foggy at the top. We were at about 900-1000m, according to my watch! After the great landscapes, there was nothing more to look at.

Then came the rain. The fog cleared up as we descended but the rain took its place and didn’t stop until late in the evening. So much for a white Christmas – more like a grey and wet Christmas!!

The mother and two children were off somewhere else in the train and the father asked where we are from. Turns out, he is from Croatia and she is from Ljubljana but they live in a small village in Sweden! We talked also about cycling because he is into taking multi-day cycling trips with his kids! He gave me some tips for cycling near the coast.

I offered some homemade Christmas cookies (whipped shortbread) to the kids and apparently they really enjoyed them. It also dawned on me I should ask the Slovenian mother where we should eat in Ljubljana. Turns out that was a great idea! I thanked her after our 6 hour train ride together and she joked we’d never see each other again anyway, so even if her recommendations were bad, I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Actually, I wish I could thank her again!

We departed the train and returned to our familiar rainy doom and gloom. In spite of that, Ljubljana has some very nice buildings and the old town is great! First we unloaded our luggage at the hotel. After our crummy airbnb in Vienna, this place was a palace!

City Hotel Ljubljana – the place to stay in Ljubljana! If you put your head out the window, you can even see the castle.

We researched our Slovenian train friend’s recommendations a little more and headed out in that direction.

I’m not good at this selfie thing.

There’s a really nice square in Ljubljana where the main Christmas market is happening. It’s on the river and and has some cool old stone bridges.

We continued on in search of the restaurant, which specialises in cuisine from the Prekmurje region, a place I only heard about a couple hours before, on the train!

Let me tell you, this was a great recommendation!!

We got a plate for two, with some pork specialty, a kind of mashed potatoes with onions, peppers (of course – we are in the Balkans now!), and a special kind of fried dough, which now we are not sure about the name of. Jelena also ordered some cabbage with pumpkin seed oil. The oil was pretty intense but I do like cabbage. Jelena already plans to recreate it at home.

After that, we split a piece of cake – some layered cake from that region but which has now become the national cake of Slovenia! It’s called Prekmurska Gibanica.

It’s got apple, poppy seeds, walnuts, and cottage cheese, so it’s really not my cup of tea. Jelena, however, was more than happy to eat most of it.

After lunch, we went across the street to check out a shop and Jelena added linden honey to our growing stash of honeys. Then we took a little stroll to check out the Christmas markets, before heading back to the hotel for some rest. It was still raining and would continue raining for a while, so we wanted to bum around the hotel and go out later when we could enjoy the evening. We ended up falling asleep for one and a half hours. Whoops!

We woke up refreshed and peered out the window to see if the rain had stopped. People were walking without umbrellas! Finally! Noah could stop building the Ark.

I got some hot chocolate, which was literally hot chocolate and not milk or water. It was thick and great. Then I got some fried dough with sugar, which I thought about dipping in the chocolate but I couldn’t resist long enough and drank it all before they were ready.

We walked around, looking for something small to eat from the many stands. It’s interesting because there is a lot of Balkan grill stuff, a nice change from the same old same old we are used to in Germany.

One square even had live music, which seemed like it had been transplanted from the Austrian Alps. For some reason, every booth at this square had someone trying to get us to buy their sausages or other grilled stuff. Everywhere else in town had normal people.

In the end, Jelena got some warm bread with kajmak and I got some burek with meat. Mine wasn’t so great but I was just gorging at this point anyway. Jelena’s bread was delicious!

Satisfied with a successful market experience, we made our way home, to return to the sweet, sweet embrace of sleep. We’ve already decided we’re coming back to Ljubljana.

The Road to Serbia: Day 1 – Vienna

This year, we’re spending Christmas in Niš. But, in light of the climate crisis, I wanted to avoid flying there. I started thinking about how we could get there by train, bus, or car, and what we could do along the way. Since Christmas comes later in Serbia, I thought maybe this would be a great opportunity to get my Christmas fix, by stopping at Christmas markets along the way. A trip idea was born!

Of course, to make it happen, we’d have to deal with some long and early train rides. We woke up yesterday at 5:05am to get to the train station and eat breakfast (oats) before getting on the 6:25 train to our first stop – Vienna!

The direct train to Vienna is pretty comfortable and the six hours don’t seem so bad when you’ve got good company and, more importantly, WiFi!

We arrived in Vienna just before 1 and made our way to Stadtwirt, a restaurant that looked good and was on the subway line to our airbnb.

It turned out to be a good find. The food was really delicious. I had Backhendl, which is basically chicken breaded and fried in the style of a Schnitzel. I really liked it. Jelena had Tafelspitz, a kind of boiled meat. (not my thing!)

After we were done enjoying that, we had some time to kill until we could check in. Temptation sunk in its claws and we ordered a sweet pancake (Palatschinke).

It was just one to share, a little treat after a good lunch! We paid the bill and then popped over to a supermarket across the street to buy some sausages for Jelena’s dad.

Sadly, it had been raining since before we arrived and there were no signs of it letting up. We jumped back into the subway and headed for Stephansplatz, where our airbnb was.

The airbnb turned out to be more of a cheap hostel with private rooms. Everyone shared one bathroom and the walls weren’t overly thick, nor were the rooms very big. The heating and window situation were not great either. Still, the location was good and the price was right – plus, we’d be leaving in less than 24 hours.

Our next plan was to head to our favourite cafe, Tirolerhof. It was only 300m away and, given the downpour, this was a very good thing. After a short rest in the room, we moved on to the next treat!

Jelena had a tea and I had a hot chocolate. We shared Kaiserschmarrn. The great thing about Viennese cafes is there’s no rush – and we were not in one!

Jelena grabbed a newspaper and I read the news on my phone. We were also in a prime position to spy on people throughout the cafe.

Eventually, we got too sleepy to remain seated and decided to move on to the final phase of our stop in Vienna – the Christmas markets. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a total bust – the rain had gotten worse. We bravely pressed on to the Karlsdom and got thoroughly soaked in the process. Defeated, we took shelter in the subway and headed home.

Well, there will be more Christmas markets ahead and hopefully less rain.

We finished the evening with some salads from a place called Health Kitchen. They turned out to be really good. While I was waiting for the takeout, the guy even offered me free water, which blew my mind – in Germany, they don’t ever give you free water, even if you’re eating there and spending a lot. I love Austria!

Now we are on the way to Slovenia, home of the world’s most famous gold digger, Melania Trump. Its capital, Ljubljana, is supposed to be very beautiful and it will be a first time visiting for both of us!

Day 12: German alpine route

After a couple months of slacking, it’s time to report on the last couple days of my bike trip! I’m actually on my next trip now (not biking), so I’ve got some spare time in the train.

Foggy camp in the early morning

Foggy campsite in the early morning

It was cold, wet and foggy in the early morning at our Bavarian camp. The Allgäu region is a beautiful place but I was definitely missing the days of the warm French coast. I went down the street to the bakery and grabbed some bread from a sketchy bakery with no prices. Sorry, no photos!

Next, I went to settle the bill for the camp. I was apprehensive because they had told us the night before that they don’t accept credit cards. When I offered to pay by bank payment, the woman at the desk phoned her boss and asked what to do and how to input this in the books. In the end, she said not to pay at all and said we could just leave without paying! Well, I think we definitely discovered a money washing operation…

Well, it was time to get moving!

Bert by the signs

This day would be filled with crossing the bottom of Germany, always with the Alps on our right to remind us of where we came from.

Nice houses

This region has a lot of beautiful hills and quiet villages with nice houses. Everybody has flowers on their balcony.

Bert riding on the road

Definitely a really nice area to ride your bike – always lots of mountains to feast the eyes on!

Alpe Kammeregg

Last year, we had a work team event in Kempten and got a recommendation to go to this great restaurant up on the mountain nearby. I had one of the best sausages I’ve ever eaten in my life and I declared I’d be back just to eat this sausage. When I was planning this trip, I made sure the route passed by this restaurant because I had to fulfill my destiny.

We actually tried to bike up but we were too ambitious: the climb was probably the steepest we’d encountered so far and there was no point in killing ourselves for lunch, when we had so much left to cycle.

Sausages at Alpe Kammeregg

Behold, the world’s best sausages! It was so good, I ordered the same meal again and endured more Sauerkraut, just to eat another one of those great sausages. So delicious. It was crunchy and juicy.

Bert on the road

We got back on the road and continued our journey. It was a long ride in the same direction and with not a lot of variation but when the sights are consistently amazing and beautiful, do you really need any variation?

Courtyard of Höhenschwangau

The last hurrah before Munich was the twin castles of Schloß Neuschwanstein and Höhenschwangau. Although I’ve been twice, I thought there was no way I could lead Bert to Munich without seeing these amazing castles, especially the one that inspired the Disney castle! We took our bikes up and into the courtyard, ignoring the no bikes sign, thinking they only meant that we weren’t allowed to ride our bikes in there. Shortly after this photo, a worker yelled at us for bringing our bikes. It was worth it!

In the photo you will also see Bert trying on a really nice jacket we found. We checked all the pockets for hints about who owned it and even considered keeping it – it was such a nice jacket. But after such a great trip with so little that went wrong, who were we to take such a hit to our karma, no matter how great the jacket? We reported it to the mean worker and left the jacket there. I hope it was returned to its owner or that it found a good home.

Bert at Höhenschwangau

Here is Bert standing on a castle, looking up at another castle! Thanks, Mad King Lüdwig!

Bert leaving Höhenschwangau

The castle was closing up and we also felt the call of the bike, so we started heading down the hill and out of the castle, back to the adventure.

Neuschwanstein in the background

Glad I grabbed this great shot on our way out of town. I think I’ll make this the cover photo.

Cycling in the evening

Originally, I had planned that we would stay at a camp near these castles but we still had some biking left in us and we decided to press on into the evening. It felt like the ride dragged on for a while and I began to doubt we would ever arrive but we eventually did.

Matt and Bert

Two great cycle buddies – Cycle Envoys!

Pasta for dinner

And what is a great cycling effort without a great cycling dinner? I had procured some pasta and sauce at the store earlier and cooked it up on our gas contraption. Together with some sausage from the camp and a little bread, we had a surprisingly tasty reward for the day’s adventure. We narrowly avoided a torrential downpour – luckily, the food was finished just in time for our mad dash to cover. We ate up everything and prepared for our final day.

Did you miss a previous day’s tales or are you looking for an easy overview? Then check out the European Biking Tour 2019 page to get a list of all the days and reports from me and Bert!

Day 11: Four countries, one day

For the second time on the trip, we awoke in total comfort. I think maybe even if you plan always to camp, it might not be a bad idea to treat yourself to a hotel here and there, even if you don’t need it.

Drying clothes in the hotel

We took full advantage of the sun coming through the window and the chairs on the balcony to try to dry our washed clothes. Ever since we left the warmth of the Mediterranean, drying clothes had been a battle.

Next up, we headed out to buy supplies and breakfast from the local supermarket (Spar). Swiss prices are terrifying for everything and even a 50% off package of 4 slices of ham still set us back 4€. I picked up some dark chocolate for a decent price actually and ever since this trip, I feel like I can’t eat anything below 50% cocoa. Just another barrier crossed into old age.

Breakfast on the balcony

I think the best part of the breakfast was the view from the balcony! We got to enjoy the mountains as we ate our bread, meat, and fruit. I also had some juice to keep the vitamins flowing into my cold-ravaged body.

We packed up and hit the road, riding shortly through Chur and then in the direction of Germany!

Riding towards the mountains in Switzerland

I can’t praise this road enough. Not too much traffic. Lots of mountains in every direction. It’s a great ride. An older man passed me on a road bike and I tried to keep pace with him. Like I said in my day 10 post, I would love to ride this stretch again but with a road bike.

Stopping for snacks

Although the overall course goes downhill, there was one long stretch of uphill, leading up to a huge drop into Liechtenstein. We took a short break during the climb to pee and eat some snacks.

Resuming the climb, we passed through a very nice area, filled with vineyards. Bert snatched some grapes that were hanging over on public property. As we finally began the descent, we went through a fort and then down a really great hill and past the sign marking the border to Liechtenstein. It would have made a great video but, at this moment, my camera informed me that the SD card was full and that it had not saved anything. Oh well.


Bert entering Liechtenstein

Predictably, for a wealthy and tiny tax haven in the Alps, Liechtenstein looked very nice. They also had good bike paths!

Bert cycling in Liechtenstein

After a very short ride through town, we made our way onto the Rhein, where we would mostly remain until Austria.

Riding on the Rhein in Liechtenstein

It was basically a long way of riding at the river and observing the awesome mountains. I think it would be nice, if you lived here or had the time, to go down on the stones and have a picnic or something. I’ve driven a lot on the Rhein between Bonn and Straßburg, so every new kilometre I could add to my Rhein experience was exciting! Bert asked if I ever thought about biking the whole Rhein but I don’t think I’m really into that. I’d rather add it into other trips!

Bert foraging on the Rhein

Grapes, apples, berries – Bert did a lot of foraging in the last few days. In this photo, I think Bert was going for some blackberries.

Bert biking on the Rhein

Cycle path on the Rhein in Liechtenstein

The only time we had to get off really was when some small section was closed by the police. I’m not sure if there was an accident or construction or what but it was a minor diversion, which actually gave Bert the chance to grab an apple off a tree, so I guess it worked out. I joked that he had stolen an apple from the royal orchard and that the Duke was going to have him arrested. Luckily, we escaped without incident.

Covered bridge between Switzerland and Liechtenstein

The cool thing is that the left side is Switzerland and the right side is Liechtenstein. Although we were happy to no longer be in the money-draining country of Switzerland, we couldn’t resist zooming through this old covered bridge and popping back into Switzerland, before returning back to Liechtenstein. It’s always neat to cross the border on your bike.

Bert cycling in Liechtenstein

Actually, this is where we had to go inland shortly. The apple trees are on the left. Ahead is some kind of castle or palace, presumably Vaduz Castle, where the royal family still lives. We lowly peasants may not enter.

Lunch in Switzerland

Eventually, it was time to say goodbye to Liechtenstein, as my Garmin GPS commanded we cross the river. Later, we’d see that we probably could have stayed in Liechtenstein but I guess it didn’t really matter which side we were on, only that the Swiss side was closer to the highway. At any rate, we found a bench on the left side of the Rhein and stopped for a tasty lunch of the usual bread, butter, meat, cheese, and whatever snacks we had (like my dark chocolate).

Entering Austria by bike

Stomachs filled, we hopped back on the bikes and rode through the last bit of Switzerland, before crossing the Rhein again, this time into Austria, the third country of the day (and maybe the 6th border crossing?). We would ride along the Rhein for a short time more but then turn inland and leave it behind. Had we continued, we’d have ended up at Lake Constance (aka the Bodensee), which is where I biked several years ago with Andreas!

We drove through some small towns in Austria for a little bit – not too exciting, compared to the day of mountains and rivers. Since we still wanted to make it to Germany and had around 30km or more to go, we pulled into a cafe for some coffee and cake and a chance to scope out the camping situation.

Tea and cake in Austria

Yep, that’s a Sachertorte. The woman at the cafe / bakery was very nice and filled up our water bottles with tap water. We had a good break and decided on a camp that was literally right across the German border. There was a bit of a ways to go but we knew we could do it. We were determined to add a fourth country and continue clawing back kilometres from that 1 lost day.

Free water in Austria

On the way out of town, we filled up on water again, this time from some free water at the side of the road. The price was right and the Alps are the place for clean water!

Matt hotels

Finally, we made it to our destination – Matt Hotels. We rested for the night at the greatest hotel either of us had ever been to. What an amazing experience. Truly, there is no better hotel in the world. A luxurious heaven, crafted by masters of design and comfort, a place for kings.

OK, we didn’t really stop here…

Austrian countryside

Beautiful green hills and mountains in Austria

We might have left the river but the mountains were still all around us. In addition, we were cycling through rolling green and luscious hills, filled with farms and cows, their bells dinging and with occasional mooing to provide us calming ambient noise. I really liked this region and it reminded me a lot of Allgäu, a southern region of Germany we’d spend most of the next day in. Very peaceful. This region was called the Bregenz Forest and I hope I’ll be back before long.

Crossing into Germany from Austria

Finally, with the sun fast setting, we made it to the fourth country of the day, seventh of the trip, and the last of our journey – Bundesrepublik Deutschland.

After crossing the border, it was a short 5 minutes before we arrived at the camp. We had to search around a bit but we finally found the camp attendant (or owner?) at the far back, in the restaurant. He told us where we could pitch our tent and asked if we wanted to eat at the restaurant. Of course, we said yes! In fact, we were counting on that and had already scoped out the menu. Unfortunately, after talking with the restaurant owner, we found out that only Schnitzel was available – and he told us to return at 8 o’clock sharp. There was no time for a shower – the Germans had demanded speed and punctuality!

Schnitzel at the camp

Actually, the Schnitzel was pretty good. The fries were pretty bad, though. But the Schnitzel made up for it. We enjoyed the meal, a fitting reward for our long journey of 113km.

Chur to Germany

When time came to pay, we discovered they only took cash. Welcome back to Germany. Moreover, the restaurant owner now quoted a different and higher price than we had agreed to when we ordered the Schnitzel. Neither of the two prices matched the menu. Having only 30€, I was unable to pay this new (fake) price and told him simply that I only had 30€ and that we had agreed to a different price. He was displeased but had no other choice. It’s not like he planned to pay tax on that money, so I don’t feel bad for him. We got no receipt. Oh yeah and he served different food (not Schnitzel) to a German woman at another table.

Since the restaurant owner also controlled the breakfast, we cancelled our breakfast order for the morning. The camp owner had insisted we order breakfast. Neither of them wanted us to cancel the breakfast but we told them we had no way to pay for it and didn’t want it anymore. They kept trying to convince us to keep our order but I insisted that we would not. The owner even called somebody to ask advice on how “these two Americans” could pay without cash. We left not really knowing if they were going to try to force the bread on us the next morning.

Otherwise, the camp was pretty decent, with good facilities. We had positioned the tent in a sheltered location but were prepared for another cold night. We had regained some altitude and the area was a bit damp, so we layered up, hunkered down, and got ready for the last two days of our epic journey.

Did you miss a previous day’s tales or are you looking for an easy overview? Then check out the European Biking Tour 2019 page to get a list of all the days and reports from me and Bert!

Day 10: To Splügen Pass and beyond

We awoke to a cool but already sunny morning in the camp. Bert had the smart idea to set up our tent in between as much shelter as possible, so we didn’t get too much wind battering us in the night and I think that made a big difference.

Sheltering in Campodolcino

For those interested, the holiday home of our Italian hosts from the night before was across the way. We ate inside, not at the outside table.

Inside the camp at Campodolcino

And here’s another view of our setup. Bert’s a pro.

Safe from the wind

We brushed our teeth, hung up some clothes in the sun, and set off into the town, to get some breakfast. The Italians from the night before had highly recommended that we buy some bresaola, so we headed for the supermarket. I picked up an Italian cooking magazine for Jelena (the only one they had) but it turned out to be a bit of a bust. Well, it’s the thought that counts, right???

Bert heading back to camp

Bresaola, bread, butter, and cheese

I asked the girl at the meat counter what cheese would go well with the bresaola and she suggested some kind of alpine cheese. Actually, I read that bresaola originated from a nearby valley, so I guess her recommendation was appropriate.

After another delicious breakfast, we packed up and got everything in order to leave. Some German couple had arrived late in the night and slept in their car. They were fellow bikers and we borrowed their bike pump to top up our tires. They weren’t too talkative but that’s Germans for you! Funnily enough, we would see them pass by later on, as we went up the hill. I guess they drove up half way just to have fun on the mountain with much lighter bikes.

Easy going on the way to Isola

We got a tip from the Italian couple and the camp owner to take an easier and more scenic detour, around Lago di Isola and decided to do that. Although we didn’t want to make the journey easier, we were interested in the scenic aspect. The route wasn’t easy all the time but there definitely were some more easy-going parts and I think it only added 1km to the journey.

Isola route

Bert taking a break on the Isola route

I think the views were worth it and it wasn’t long before we hit some tough inclines, earning us some short snack breaks. Then we met up with the main path and continued as normal. I think we avoided a few very steep curves is all.


Matt and mountains

Bert taking a break

As always, the amazing views continued as we made our way up the pass. We were constantly overwhelmed by what was ahead, behind, and all around us. It was a tough climb but in a good way. We were never dying and we took breaks as needed. Sure, we didn’t do it all in one go but you try cycling up all that way with all that weight! We were very pleased with our progress.

Just around the above-pictured bend was another amazing and unforgettable experience.

Knocking on the door of the cheese master

As we climbed, I noticed a sign on the house that said to call about cheese for sale. I shouted ahead to Bert and explained the sign. We decided we simply had to turn around and find out more about the promised cheese.

Initially, we were disappointed. After knocking on the door repeatedly, there was no answer. We decided to try the phone but my broken Italian seemed insufficient to explain to the man that we were interested in his cheese. We waited a bit longer, hoping he would come to the door but our spirits dampened as time passed and we decided to get back on the road. Just as we were pushing our bikes out of his driveway, the cheese man appeared at the door! He beckoned for us to come inside – we hurried after him, intrigued by this beared old man and his mountain refuge.

Inside was dark and there was farming machinery for milk and cheese. He led us into the next room and opened the door to a closet.


CHEESE! I was simultaneously very excited but also filled with guilt, knowing Jelena would be overwhelmed with joy to witness this alpine cheese oasis. I couldn’t wait to tell her about this tale, even though it was not yet finished. Although Jelena has only attempted to make her own cheese a couple times, I could imagine us having our own cheese closet some day, if Jelena had her way!

The man explained that the cows and goats were 30 years old and that they would never be used for meat. He followed the Hare Krishna philosophy and believed that the cow could be your mother or the goat could be your father (reincarnation?), so you should treat them well. He asked what we do for work. I already knew I was in the wrong line of work for him and he, indeed, did not approve of my chosen profession of computer programmer. As for Bert, he seemed pleased that, as a nurse, Bert was doing something to help people.

We didn’t know how much the cheese costed but asked him how much a decent slice would be. After he wrote seemingly random numbers on a piece of paper, he came up with 3 or 4 euros, which actually ended up making us feel a little bad for being cheap. Still, we explain that we had very little space to carry anything and that we couldn’t buy more. We took our cheese, thanked him, and went out to get back on the road.

Cheese on a bike

Before we could get going, the cheese man came running out of the house, both hands filled with cherry tomatoes. He explained that they were from his garden and offered them to us for free. Another guardian angel wished us on our way.

Beware of cows

I’ve seen many deer warning signs but I’m not so used to being warned of cows! Well, those cows could be reincarnated Italian relatives, so I took extra care. Before long, we arrived at Lago di Montespluga, which basically meant we were almost at the pass. I could hardly believe it because I thought it would be harder to get to this point.

Lago di Montespluga

Riding alongside Lago di Montespluga

This was a plateau before the final climb and I remember checking it out when planning the trip, knowing that once we made it to this point, we were almost home free. As a nice bonus, the whole area was beautiful and mind-blowing. Sadly, my phone crashed at this point and I didn’t get any other pictures. I think I got some video with my cheapo camera but I haven’t processed any of that yet. At least I’ve got mental pictures.

After a leisurely ride along the lake, we continued on to the small village just past it. I suggested to Bert that this might be a good place to get his postcard and decided to buy one myself for Natalia. I also got a fridge magnet with a guy biking up the Spluga Pass, since Jelena sometimes likes to get them on our trips.

It was here that we met another amazing character on our journey – a woman from Canada! She must have overheard us talking in English because she asked us where we were from. Turns out she is from Vancouver and was there with her 90 year old father, to bring back her mother’s ashes to the village she was from. We were taken aback by her sincerity and how quickly she shared her personal story with us. That’s something I miss with the closed nature of Europeans. Canadians are always willing to share their whole life story from the first minute they start a conversation with you.


We told her about our cycling trip and she was genuinely impressed. She asked if we were blogging it or anything and I said yes. She even asked for the URL but we got interrupted and then we changed topics, so I didn’t end up giving it to her. Later, we really regretted that because she seemed like she would have enjoyed reading. We met her father outside and he seemed in good condition for a 90 year old man. Well, they build them sturdy in Switzerland, I guess.

After saying goodbye, mailing our postcards, throwing on some extra clothing layers, and eating some snacks, we got back on the bike for the final ascent to the summit.

Matt cycling to the Spluga summit

Bert cycling up the Splügen Pass

And then we were there! I looked around in disbelief. Could this really be it?

Splügen Pass

Yes, there was no sign or anything, just some closed down toll booths from a time when borders still divided Europeans, and some construction work on the Swiss side of the border. I looked desperately for some kind of congratulatory sign or even something to mark the fact that we were at the summit. Sadly, there was nothing – nothing but amazing views and a huge sense of accomplishment. And that would have to do.

Bert enjoys the Swiss mountains

We did it! We conquered the Splügen Pass. And it wasn’t even that hard. What lied before us was all downhill and the views were even more mindblowing than everything we’d seen on the way up. I also managed to get maybe my favourite photo of the trip.

Matt and Bert at Splügen Pass

Matt and Bert, at Splügen Pass. What a wild ride. To think that we started in Marseille, on the southern French coast, and were now overlooking Switzerland. I really like this photo because it includes me and Bert and an amazing view – and you can see how happy we are! It represents everything about the trip.

We began our descent into Switzerland with a section of many turns and ear popping drops in altitude. I have some video, which I hope to clean up and post some day – but that will take me a while. At one point, I felt like I was in the scene in Spectre, when James Bond is crashing down the alpine mountain towards the town. We arrived in the town of Splügen, after which the pass is named, and bought a few more supplies at the supermarket. I wanted a warm meal but when I got a look at the Swiss prices, we got back on our bikes and fled.

A bridge over the Rhein

Another cool thing about Splügen is that one of the tributaries of the Rhein (Hinterrhein) flows through it, so we actually followed the Rhein from this point forward. Given that the Rhein has dominated so much of my life in Germany, I found it especially exciting. At one point, we found this wooden bridge and stopped to investigate where it went (with an ulterior motive of peeing). There we found an interesting hiking path, which I’d have loved to have explored further, with more time and different shoes.

The funny thing is that I don’t have many more photos left for the day but we continued for many hours after reaching the summit. One thing I noticed immediately after starting the descent is how much colder it was in Switzerland. I guess the warm air from the Mediterranean was trapped on the Italian side, while the Swiss side was surrounded by mountains, leaving it a frozen wasteland – beautiful but very cold. I understood why Manfried from the camp on lake Como was sceptical about my fingerless gloves.

Time went on and we kept going down, down, down. At one point, we even went through an amazing tunnel that was almost like a rollercoaster in how rapidly it descended. That is a tunnel I’d like to ride through again – but with an empty bike. It was really cool. I’d love to do the whole way from Splügen to Konstanz with a proper road bike some day.

We wanted to make as much progress as possible and kept passing any chance of camping but we probably got greedy in the end. At one point, we realised that we had reached a dead area of no camps and not even any hotels. The light was almost gone, the cold was increasing rapidly, and hope was fading.

Getting dark in Switzerland

Another challenge was that I had no connection to the Internet in Switzerland, since the Swiss refuse to join the EU and, therefore, my EU-wide dataplan was not valid there. We kept our eye out for any signs of hotels or camps but I kept laying the groundwork for our eventual stay in a hotel, informing Bert that I was simply too cold to survive a night in a camp. Despite all our progress we were still at a pretty decent elevation.

Finally we came to some small town, where I asked a random passerby about any nearby hotels. He let us know there was one in the next town maybe but that there were certainly hotels in Chur. Well, when we arrived in that next town, we found the one hotel, which was unfortunately booked out. In fact, the reception wasn’t even open, but after bumming a phone off some Italian-speaking Eastern European guest workers, I managed to find out that they had occupied all the rooms. We got back on the road and continued on to Chur.

By this time, it was actually pretty dark and the bike path we were on was illuminated only by our bike lights. Luckily, the path was nowhere near any roads, so we were safe. We finally made it to Chur and located some hotels the good old fashioned way – with our eyes. The price wasn’t right (around 115€) but beggars cannot be choosers, so we accepted the blood price and settled in to our second hotel stay of the journey. At least they offered us a secure and locked room to store our bikes.

As always, the next objective was to find food. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much nearby and we were terrified of Swiss prices. We opted for the pizza at the hotel, which ended up being a junk German frozen pizza.

Bad frozen pizza in Switzerland

The guy at reception claimed that many guests liked this pizza and that it was well-received. For that innaccurate information, he earned a bad review for his hotel. The pizza was edible but I’ve eaten this same low quality pizza many times before – it’s from the freezer. A far cry from what we were used to in Italy.

Anyhow, we had achieved a great distance and now had a comfortable place to recover. I think the hotel was needed to avoid getting sick from the cold and to recharge our batteries for the last leg of the trip.

Campodolcino to Chur

It was a long day but a great one. We went to sleep very satisfied with our achievements, ready to make our way to Germany the next day.

Did you miss a previous day’s tales or are you looking for an easy overview? Then check out the European Biking Tour 2019 page to get a list of all the days and reports from me and Bert!