Ok, so I want to write up one more post about my travels the last two months, because I have quite a lot left to say that I didn't fit in any of the blogs I wrote before.
First, I should say that, obviously, I had my ups and downs during this trip but in the end I must admit, I was very lucky and in the end it all turned out perfectly good - as it always does, of course. I was lucky with the weather - after Norway it literally only ever rained when I was staying in a friend's house, and even in Norway it never rained hard and I never got really wet. I was also lucky that I had no problems whatsoever with my bike, no flat tire, no broken chain, no anything even though my bike made a worrying noise from the very start. But I never had to fix anything. Also, the way I had tied my luggage to my back rack worked very well.
I do not want to call this luck, although I know, some of you might do so: my bike or my luggage never got stolen. When I slept outside, usually I would leave my bike with my big backpack on, somewhere nearby. Sometimes I put the lock on and sometimes I did not, but my backpack (the one with the not so valuable things) was always there, theoretically free to take for everyone. And this was not only so while I slept but also when I went to buy something, took a walk or the like. So there were really many opportunities where something could have gotten stolen. But nothing did. I am very glad that this was so, because, after all, I believe in the good in the world and in people, and I could not have done this trip if I did not. But the fact that it all went well means, that I, for my part, also think that I am right to believe that.
In this way, it was quite interesting when I cycled through Austria and I saw posters for the presidential elections where one of the candidates says that "Austria needs safety" implying that there is a lack thereof currently. The same is true, obviously, for the current election campaign in the US. I find it sad that there are so many people who refuse to put trust in other people around them or in the world as such, because I am very sure that this is the first and foremost thing you need in order to have a happy life.
Another interesting thing I found on the way was the experience of being homeless. I have never been the type of backpacker who sleeps in a different place every day and never will be. Even though you may not think so due to the many times I move, I actually do like to have a home. It was often really hard for me then, to cycle all day not knowing where I would sleep at night. Most days this question bothered me a lot when the sun started to go down. It was very interesting to find, however, that, as soon as I found a place to sleep at any given night, I started to regard it as my home. When I then went for a walk, or even just a few metres to wash myself in a river or something, I always thought to myself that I was going back home when I went back to where I had put down my sleeping bag. Quite clearly, to me the state or location of my home is not important but the fact that I have a home is. So it happened several times that, as the night approached, I passed through a village and I saw people in their apartments drawing the curtains and getting ready for the night. It was then, when I had not found myself a place to sleep by then, that I got really jealous of these people and I really wanted to have a home too. But as soon as I had found one, usually, I was happy with it, no matter if it was under a bridge, or on the best beach you could think of. Clearly, you don't sleep as well on a hard, stony ground as you would in a bed but I also quickly got used to that and could manage to sleep pretty well wherever. There was one big thing that still influenced my comfort when sleeping outside a lot, and that was - stupidly - the law. Of course, in Sweden and Norway it is legal to sleep outside, so I never felt worried about being "discovered". From Denmark onwards, however, what I did became illegal or a grey area at best (since I didn't have a tent it was not 100% illegal anywhere). This meant that I always felt like I needed to hide, which made my life quite a lot less easy. It helped, that by the time I got to Austria, it started to get dark earlier, so hiding was easier. Also it helped that I stopped caring too much, because I had done it so often by then, and clearly people have seen me sleep in various places also where it was not allowed, and no one cared, and why should they? So I slowly started to forget the fact that I was doing something illegal. There is no real reason for it being illegal anyways. And by the time I got to Greece I didn't even check if wild camping was allowed there. I suppose not but in Greece clearly no one would care anyways.
Of course, I liked some places I slept at better than others. In general all beaches I liked very much and cereal fields are not among my favourites... Also, something I only got used to after a while was that I was constantly leaving very beautiful places, which made me very sad, because I would have liked to stay there longer. Only after a while I learned that, for every beautiful place I left, a new one would show up soon and this made it easier to leave them behind and keep them only in my memories
One thing I learned to value very much on this trip was clean water in rivers and lakes. Being able to drink water from a river is a thing that those who live in places where you can, barely notice and those who live in places where you can't think of as a ridiculous idea. It is a really nice thing if you can do that, I can assure you. You never have to worry about drinking water. Mind you, there are many other potential sources of free drinking water in places where tap water is suitable for drinking. For example railway stations, fast food restaurants, shopping centres or just a private house where you see someone sit outside and ask them if you could fill up your bottles. But next to the drinking water, water for washing yourself is also highly appreciated when you cycle all day in warm conditions. It is funny how quickly you get used to washing yourself in the open whenever water is available. It also became normal for me to wash my underwear and shirts and cycle around with my boxershorts hung up to dry on my handlebar. Actually a bike is a pretty good place to hang up clothes to dry, to be honest. - Well that is, if you do not worry what other people might think of you...
Next to the basic supplies, probably the bike paths were the most important things for me. In retrospect I am still very surprised about the fact that cycling in Scandinavia was much harder than in any other place I cycled in - well, maybe with Turkey being the exception, Turkey was pretty bad. But I clearly had expected more from Norway, Sweden and also Denmark. Although, I must admit that Denmark had good cycle routes and also good signage but they still managed to get me lost pretty badly twice. Also cycling options outside the official cycle routes are not too good. The part I cycled in Sweden was okay for the most part, as I was following one main road with not too much traffic, that went straight for the most part but I still managed to get lost several times - and I mentioned that the worst ever cycle path I happened to get on was the little part I tried to cycle on the official North Sea Cycle Route (I had to walk my bike literally all the way because it was so bad) - oh no, I think that was actually in Norway but I don't know if the cycle route would have been better in Sweden. As far as cities go, Gothenburg is still my all-time favourite, no question about that (well, from this trip now, of course, cities in the Netherlands are a different category). Norway was very disappointing, I must say, and car drivers were not very respectful either. Of course, there are official cycle routes in Norway too, which might be better but from my experience, Norway was probably the worst place to cycle (next to Turkey) - surprisingly. Sorry Norway, also I am not saying this is so, this is just my experience. Mind you, Norway was probably also where I saw most other cyclists, but they were for the most part racing bikers who are usually used to cycling on busy roads. After I left Scandinavia cycling conditions clearly got a lot better with good cycling routes and good signage or with roads that were not too busy or at least cars that were more respectful.
Talking about roads, I must say it was very sad to see in every single place where I cycled on the road debris from fast food restaurants (i.e. packaging of McDonalds food) next to the road, literally everywhere. This is rather ridiculous considering that I sometimes carried trash with me for a day or more until I got to the next place to get rid of it, and this is on my bike with literally all the space I had used up - so how on Earth is it possible that people in cars cannot find space in their cars to take their garbage to the next place to dispose of it properly. This is something that I will never ever understand! Also, it is true that, further south there was more garbage but the sad truth is that from what I saw this was mainly because in the south I passed more places where garbage would actually be drifting ashore transported by rivers. This was particularly visible in the Po delta area which was a protected area and inaccessible but there was so much garbage everywhere it was really scary. But garbage next to the road was as common in Sweden and Norway as in Italy and Greece. Maybe less so in Germany and Austria but then I barely cycled next to the road in these countries.
Looking back now I must say that literally the only thing I missed on the road was the security of having a home, of knowing where I would spend the night. A shower or bath was nice to have every few days but there were always opportunities even without official installations for that. Food, of course, could be accessed anywhere from stores, if you have money, that is. And many times internet access was annoyingly difficult to get because I never knew where there were free hotspots so I usually went to cafés or fast food restaurants, but then I would have to spend money there. And then, of course, at times you need to recharge your devices, which can be even harder. But other than that, with the few things I had and the life I lived I was perfectly happy. Comparing this to where I am now is quite ugly, to be honest, because the family I am staying with is clearly rich and the children are clearly spoiled each of them having their own i-Pod and being used to spend more time in the virtual world than in real life. I do not want to judge anyone but I must say I am very happy that I know that I can live a perfectly happy life with very little money and material possessions - and maybe I should repeat here, what I said before on Facebook: after this trip (but also before it even) I feel extremely rich in many ways with so many experiences I have and skills I learned that no money in the world could pay for. I think richness is a very arbitrary thing to judge people on, but I clearly think that I am richer than most of the world and this is not related to money.
One of the most important things I learned on this journey, by the way, was when I visited several of my friends and found that they all - each in their own way - had a good and successful life. When I look at myself, of course, I am happy, but when I compare myself to others, sometimes it becomes clear that my life is a kind of a failure: With 34 now, I am still on my own, no kids, no house, not even a stable job or anything to show for what I did the past 34 years. Apart from the fact, of course, that what I have, is nothing to "show" as it is not material. But I have a life that I am very happy with and this is the only kind of success that really counts. I compare myself to my friends and I find that, even though I can appreciate the life the have, I wouldn't want to change with them. And in the end, I am a strong woman and this is what I wanted to be so, just living the life I do, is a big success to me. Even if I may end this life style in the future, having made it this far makes me feel pretty proud.
And talking about age: It was my birthday, a few weeks ago. Time when everybody wishes you to have a special day. I can't say my day was that special, simply because in the last two months every single day has been so special, that my birthday couldn't be any more special (even though I admit I have never before gotten Kürbisstrudel for my birthday instead of a cake). But the truth is: why on Earth should we try to make 1 day per year special if we can make every single day of our life special?!
So much happened in the last two months it feels like two years have passed. I know for sure that, had I known before, how hard it would be sometimes, I would probably not have done this, but looking back on it now, I an very glad I did do it, I learned a lot, I grew as a human being and I am probably happier than ever before (if that is possible). I know that you can only grow as a person when you have to face challenges and so I think it was good I did it. It was certainly a good experience and I am glad now that I arrived here. I admit, the last few days in Greece I was almost sad that they were my last on the road but I was also glad that I could finally put my bike aside for some time and just be in one place and take the time to get to know one place again. I am now looking forward to exactly that - exploring my new home - while trying to pretend it is someone else in my body who is living the life of a movie star in a fancy apartment in a fancy place in Izmir. It is ridiculous that both my poorest (or least civilized or however you want to call it) and my richest (or fanciest) parts of my life (so far) directly follow each other. I still have to get used to being civilized again. And then I really need to improve my Turkish fast! I will take some time to settle in here and then write about the life of the movie star in Turkey. Be patient, you will read from me again!