We have seen and experienced 17 countries on our travels so far, which has been educational, eye-opening and just absolutely brilliant. However of everything we have seen and done it has been the people that have made the trip for us, and we have been very lucky to meet some amazing people and make some new friends along the way. That aside, here are some of our more general key observations and highlights of the European leg of our trip.
1. We are both in agreement that Bulgaria was our favourite country overall. But we differ on our favourite foods….Nigel has put Turkey as his fovourite food destination, whereas mine has been without a doubt Romania.
Mind you our home-cooking and camping cuisine has featured a lot of bread, salami, pasta and tuna…the cuisine of hungry cyclists!
2. Since we left on April 2, we have had an unseasonably warm start and end to our trip and probably only experienced about 20 days of rain in total. How brilliant is that! However the last 4 days in Istanbul have been pretty wet – but as we aren’t cycling it hasn’t been a problem.
3. Price variations and cost of living in the EU…forget the Big Mac index, we have created the “Lidl bread roll” index. Prices for exactly the same (or similar) bread roll in Lidl stores throughout Europe have varied from 80p in Denmark to 8p in Bulgaria. We found it really surprising that prices could be SO different within European Union countries, although neither of these 2 countries actually use the Euro.
4. Leaving the UK in springtime and arriving in the Mediterranean at the end of autumn we have seen the countryside change across the seasons. And this means we have seen lots of different fruit grow and harvests that we haven’t seen before…walnuts, cherries, apricots, olives and cotton! I had never eaten cherries straight from the tree, seen people forage for walnuts at the side of a road or see olives manually harvested. Definitely something different!
5. Greek drivers get the award for the best drivers, while Turkey, Serbia and Essex are the worst. But it’s not all good for Greece as it was definitely the dirtiest country and the worst for dogs aggressively chasing us.
6. Cheese throughout the part of Europe we travelled through is bland and tasteless….honestly until we got to Bulgaria and Greece no matter what cheese we tried we bought it was just plastic, tasteless calories. Hardly worth having. Oh for a decent bit of mature cheddar! Cakes however have been a different story. Denmark and Turkey are the top cake countries! The below pic is from Turkey.
7. In the Scandinavian countries it is obligatory to clean your chalet/cabin before you vacate it – or else get fined. We thought that opting for a cabin was a bit like apartment rental but discovered that it’s not cleaned by the owners, but rather the people who used it before you. A hassle-free way to operate a camping business.
8. Dogs and cats. It is interesting to see how the attitude towards dogs and cats has varied throughout Europe…from animal lovers in the UK to feral strays in Romania; then we get to Greece and Turkey and we can’t tell if the dogs or cats are stray or not. They seem well fed and well looked after but not sure if they are actually owned by a family or not. What has been consistent however is the ability of any dog to sniff us out and bark at us or chase us if not the tied up. If a pedestrian walks past or a car drives by they have generally not even batted an eyelid. But the minute they get an inkling of a bike nearby, it drives them barking crazy….and it’s not as if we are talking or singing st the top of our voices on the road. Can they smell us?
9. Orthodox churches….we have visited so many churches of varying denominations and Moreno recently mosques. What has stood out among the orthodox churches is thst because of small windows and bad lighting, regardless of the time of day, it’s really difficult to see how beautiful they really are. A bit of a shame really as some of them are absolutely stunning.
10. Eastern Europe was an absolute eye-opener to us in a very positive way. We will admit to having had negative prejudices of Eastern Europeans as shell-suit wearing, heavy drinking, sullen people who mainly eat cabbage soup and dumplings and they drive like maniacs. Not forgetting the Romanian thieves and gypsies we were warned about… (Apologies to all our old and new Eastern European friends!) …and we couldn’t be further from the truth on any of this. We have had nothing but positive experiences in each of the countries we visited in Eastern Europe and were surprised at how westernised most of Eastern Europe actually is. With a few exceptions, the standard of accommodation has generally been pretty good. We particularly like that a kitchen and washing machine are pretty standard, which was a Godsend to travellers like us an makes us wonder why the UK doesn’t have similar accommodation available for outdoorsy activities. Rather annoyingly however sink plugs seem to be rather scarce and I HATE washing dishes under running water! Other things we noted are:
- From Hungary onwards we experienced dogs barking through the night – and there is the dominos effect of one dog starting and setting the rest of the neighbourhood off.
- Fresh eggs are sold in single units in small shops and supermarkets which we think is brilliant.
- I know I said that they aren’t heavy drinkers, but there were a lot of early morning beers and schnapps-drinking going on wherever we went. This however wasn’t confined to Eastern Europe as the Austrians seemed to indulge in an early morning tipple as well.
- The people we met – particularly the Hungarians, Romanians and Bulgarians – have a sense of humour quite similar to the Brits and the Irish and enjoy taking the mick out of themselves. We were kindred spirits!
- English chefs, particularly Jamie Oliver, are popular in Eastern Europe and seemed to follow us around on TV all the time. Others included Gordon Ramsey and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. Ed Sheeran has been positively annoying….on every radio station and in every restaurant just about everywhere!! (Good job we like him eh?!)
- Inappropriate English slogans on t-shirts. At first this made us laugh as people were wearing t-shirts with slogans on that made no sense or with spelling mistakes on them. But some of them were completely inappropriate eg young parents wearing t-shirt with F**k this sh1t! (Written in full!) while pushing prams or carrying young children. We can only assume that they don’t really have enough of an understanding of the nuances of the English language to realise that it is quite an aggressive statement to broadcast..or else we are just 2 middle-aged fogies who don’t know what’s cool anymore!
I guess the last things I would say about Eastern Europe as a whole is that is is completely under-marketed in terms of tourism. There is to much to see and do and it’s not too far away. So if anyone reading this is looking for a cheap city break or a holiday to experience something a bit different, we can’t recommend highly it enough….and there are so many countries to choose from!