One Second Everyday

Hola amigos! We do still exist. It’s been that long since I’ve sent a post out into the ether that I have no idea if anyone is still listening. If you are, thank you!

It’s going to be a brief post as Kellie had another parasite removed from her body about four months ago. We like to call the parasite ‘Son’ or ‘Milo Elliott Ward’. We have decided to let him stay and hang out with us. He is pretty cool in-between all the crying, sleepless nights, vomit and poo. His smile is pretty fantastic and that alone is enough reason to get me up in the morning.

Instead of writing about what we have been up to I have put together a video. It’s one second from every single day over the last year. It contains really great and life changing stuff, like my unborn child’s first kick, his birth (not full graphic content obviously), hanging out with the ace friends and family he gets to grow up with. Even recorded the more mundane and crap stuff. All of life basically.

It made my wife and mum cry (in a good way obviously), and lifted some of the gloom I have felt over the last few days in this land we call ‘Great’ Britain.

‘One Second Everyday’ is the App if you are interested in doing it yourself. It does all the video editing for you so it’s really simple to make. I will be doing it for years to come.

The music is ‘Be right back, moving house’ by Ghostpoet.

New plans, new countries!

France did not treat us kindly for our first few weeks here, it tested us a lot, but we learnt from it. Important lessons like pushing Donkey is actually just as hard as cycling him and sometimes the Internet lies about campsites existing.

It was tough both physically and mentally, but our luck changed when we landed a last minute weekend house sit on the outskirts of Paris and ended up changing our entire plans for the rest of this cycling tour.

tower plans

Exploring Paris

We got some important down time, a place to wash our stinking clothes and a base to explore Paris for the first time.

Paris is a city I’ve dreamed about visiting for a long time. I don’t know why I’ve never made it the short distance over there in my 35 years on this planet.

We played tourists for the morning visiting the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. To be honest we became bored quickly. I know these are the must see things, but I just found them a bit meh.

So we stepped away from picture postcard sights and spent our afternoon wandering the beautiful streets of Paris and sitting in a patisserie drinking tea and eating cake far away from the crowds.

plans cake

Cycling through Paris!!

The day of our departure, from the house sit, we experienced an exhilarating and scary ride through the streets of Paris with our fully loaded tandem. Weaving between the impatient Parisian drivers, down cobbled streets onto main thoroughfares surrounded by cars, past landmarks we flew.

The adrenaline was pumping; instead of panicking when our chain came off we laughed our way through the quick repair. So much fun, we have now decided cycling is the best way to see a city and walking is yesterday’s news.

paris plans

Paris you are beautiful and one day I will return.

Next up we had to speed over to the East of France, to meet up with Rob’s parents for a week relaxing in Colmar. With clean clothes and a fully functioning Donkey we hopped on the train to Besancon before cycling the rest of the distance to Colmar.

It was at this point that our world began to change as we were introduced to the wonderful Eurovelo 6. A mostly flat (FLAT!!!) bicycle route that weaves alongside rivers, betweens hills and through the countryside. We came across it by chance.

plans open

plans forest

camping plans

plans wild

We spent the days camping by rivers, stopping for lunch in forests and enjoying the open countryside and flat(ish) route

New plans. New route…

Over the next few days our legs felt stronger than ever have. On day one we went past our first campsite in favour of cycling another 18 miles to the next one.

Even Donkey’s gears breaking couldn’t rain our parade. On our last ride before Colmar, we cycled 30 miles with only one gear. We didn’t care anymore, he still moved. Maybe we are toughening up a bit and becoming proper hardcore cyclists. Or maybe we just got lucky on a flat route…

Whatever the reason, it was bliss. We were firmly back in love with this trip.

In fact so much so, we changed our whole plans!

It started with Rob singing Bohemian Rhapsody extremely loudly. A sure sign he is in a good mood whilst cycling. Sadly there is no escaping it on a tandem bike.

“Bismillah! WE WILL NOT LET YOU GO!! LET ME GO!”

Pause in singing.

“Kel, it’s a bit nice this Eurovelo 6. Do you think we should carry on cycling it all the way to the end?”

It heads through Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Romania.

“YES!” I shout, practically screaming with excitement.

“WE WILL NOT LET YOU GO! LET ME GO!” He carries on singing.

And just like that we will no longer be heading to Italy as originally planned. Instead we will be cycling alongside the Danube towards the Black Sea. Places we had never considered before, but can’t wait to explore.

We make plans. Then tear them up. That’s part of what makes this an adventure.

Resting our sore bottoms in Colmar

As we arrived in Colmar we passed the 470 mile mark for our tandem cycling trip. Here’s what that almost looks like:

Route map colmarI say almost, because we caught three trains on route. The first after we left Bruges, as the flat open spaces of Belgium were getting a bit dull, never thought I would crave hills on this trip. Another to get to a house sit on the outskirts of Paris, and finally so we could peg it over to Colmar to see my parents in East France.

We racked up the miles without really paying much attention. It’s our first ever cycling tour and we’d done no training. Plus Kel had been ill with parasites for the last year and I’d got fat. Seemingly to make up for the fact Kellie couldn’t eat much food, I ate her share.

I always thought I was one of those annoying folks who couldn’t put on any weight no matter what I ate. 3 months of stuffing my face in Canada and gaining 12kg (26 pounds) in bulk proved that wrong.

It’s not the normal build up, but thankfully being a bit of a porker doesn’t stop your legs working and Kel continues to recover from her parasite infestation. Dairy and high sugar foods still bring on her waves of nausea, she avoids these now. I imagine it’s torture watching me fill my belly with all the pastry France has to offer.

We’ve adapted pretty quickly to the rigours of cycling. The first 2 weeks involved lots of moaning, groaning and grunting (steady on). A days riding would be littered with breaks, and finish with us collapsing on the floor exhausted. Making an evening meal would be a real chore, staying awake beyond 8:30pm almost impossible.

Now we sometimes extend our days riding, or do a spot of sight seeing. Mornings are not the painful exercise they used to be, lactic acid no longer burning our legs as soon as we set off. The only breaks we need are to rest our painful posteriors. What would life be like without our padded shorts? Probably a lot less stinky, there is definitely a foul stench after 5 days of riding. Never touch another’s padded shorts is an unwritten rule.

It feels like we have hit our stride finally, after many nightmares involving destroying Donkey on a train and France trying to break us. The pleasure of cycling now far outweighs the pain. So of course, just as we find our feet we decide to stop for a week. Yup, very sensible…

Colmar fairytale

Colmar is the town we’ve chosen as a base and it’s impossibly beautiful. Buildings straight from a fairytale, cobbled streets, patisseries, restaurants and coffee shops everywhere. It’s a tourists dream, with museums, tourist trains, Bartholdi statues (the chap who made The Statue of Liberty, in my ignorance I didn’t know this was his hometown) and even a section of town called Little Venice (for obvious reasons). But the crowds of people here in May is not overwhelming, in fact it can be pretty quiet as you roam the streets.

We’ve taken the time to hang out with my parents, who drove down from the UK to join us, in a lovely Airbnb apartment slap bang in the centre of Colmar. When we’d had enough of town life we hired a car and headed to the hills. The nearby Munster Valley is filled with windy roads and huge elevations (they ski here in the winter), resulting in astonishing views of the countryside.

Long ago we discovered researching our destination is pointless. It causes underwheliming-itis. Instead we find a place to stay and just turn up. Then sometimes you get a complete surprise like this…

night colmar

night time colmarcolmar streetsflowers colmarcake colmarswans colmarchurch colmarSt Martin’s Cathedral – Plays host to a family of stalks who’ve built a huge nest on one of its spires.

hills colmar

epic Munster Valley

lake colmarview colmarcolmar crazyMy wife enjoying the tourist train a bit too much

The day we broke Donkey (our tandem bike)

‘We broke Donkey!’ Was the cliffhanger ending to Kellie’s last post.

In fact we completely buggered him up, making him impossible to ride. We were 13 miles from our Airbnb destination, and worst of all it was a Sunday.

Unlike Britain, our home nation, France still holds certain days sacred. On Sunday everything comes to a stand still. Well everything except cafes and patisseries. I normally love the French priorities; except on this occasion where a repair shop for our tandem was a necessity and delicious pastry was not.

donky-tandem-bike

Our tandem bike all shiny and new before we broke him

The morning had gone like clock work, a short ride into Amiens to catch a train to Creil, before cycling the last 13 miles to Orry La Ville. After landing a weekend house sit on the outskirts of Paris we needed to make haste with our journey, rather than pedal for 7 days straight we decided to take it easy and catch a train and have a day off to rest our achy limbs.

Breaking the bike

It was a bit of risk attempting to catch a train, after Googling ‘can you take a tandem on a French train?’ I discovered the official answer was a firm non negotiable ‘NON!’

Thankfully the bicycle forums/chatrooms (they do exist) are full of people who have navigated this country by tandem and train. Basically, the advice being show up, smile at the conductor and hope for the best.

There was not need to stress on this occasion, as the conductors also seem to get Sunday off. We wedged the bike in the last carriage and sat down, ready to go.

And that’s when the shit hit the fan. The train lurched heavily away from the station, instantly Donkey became un-wedged and in slow motion fell to the floor.

I picked him up, checked him over. The tandem still seemed to be in one piece, despite the huge crash. But then I tried to move him. His back wheel was jammed, brakes locked on. After 30 minutes of tinkering, the wheel was freed. Good to go, I thought.

Relieved, I held on to Donkey for the rest of the journey making sure he survived intact.

Unfortunately the first hill out of the train station proved to be the end of our trip. The chain crunched, bits snapped and pieces fell off. The rear derailleur (the bit that changes the gears) was destroyed. We were stuck on a hill, going nowhere.

I tried for and hour to perform a make do a mend job, hoping in vain to get us to our Airbnb place, but even with the help of two passing cyclist who took pity on us, there was no fixing this.

I admit now, I was/am pretty clueless when it comes to the mechanics of a bicycle. A bike maintenance course may have been a good idea before we set off, but no point worrying about that now. We thought our bike was finished with, but the passing cyclists assured us he wasn’t beyond repair.

So after the meltdown and panic, thinking our beloved Donkey was a gonna, we had hope of a resurrection. Although breathing new life into our machine would most likely be delayed until Monday.

Well and truly stuck

Donkey had now become a really heavy anchor. A normal bike is pretty easy to manoeuvre when it’s broken, but the weight and awkward bulk of a tandem takes much more effort and thought.

This left us with the difficulty of moving a huge beast the last 13 miles of our journey. Not a f@!king chance were we pushing it up and down hill in the baking sun.

After the last few days, where France had tried to break us, we’ve become pretty adaptable and can think on our feet fast. First decision made, we pushed the bike back to the train station, and discovered there was a train that would take us within a mile of our destination!

YES!!!

Oh hang on though, what’s that on the station monitor flashing away at the side of our train?

A bus? No. Please. Not a replacement bus service.

NO!!!

Ok, so there is no chance of getting this massive mother flippin tandem on a bus. Why didn’t we get separate bikes again?!

Right, what’s the next option?

Erm. Can we leave the bike here and get the bus? It’s shifty as hell in this town, not a chance. It would be gone by morning.

So… Erm. Yeah… I’m out of options. Kellie is looking at me blankly. We eat a peanut butter and jam sandwich. Perhaps that will help us with a flash of genius.

Nope. Nothing.

We could get a local hotel and lose the money we paid on our Airbnb stay. We decide we don’t want to do this. Creil is a bit of an armpit town, we are refusing to stay here.

When does the bus go? Three minutes. We look at each other agreed. It’s worth a shot!!

We jog to the bus with our anchor and look at the conductor and driver pleadingly, then look to the bike and finally to the bus and say “possibleh?”. Body language gets you through most situation when language fails you.

The conductor looks skeptical, the driver is eager! It looks like it’s a challenge he can’t wait to take on.

One problem though, we have no tickets. Kel sprints off to get them, whilst I do battle with bus and bike.

The driver opens the compartment underneath the bus. It’s tiny! I don’t care anymore. Donkey is going on this sodding bus. I rip off the panniers, flip donkey on his side and try sliding him in. He gets wedged instantly, half in, half out. The conductor is getting antsy, the bus must go on time, with or without us. I start sweating profusely.

The driver nips around the other side, opens the compartment and starts pulling. I push. Still he won’t budge.

My 4 panniers and two bags are scattered everywhere, they contain a laptop, iPods, kindles and expensive camper gear. Right now I am praying this town isn’t as dodgy as it looks.

I quickly grab my bike tools, loosen the handlebars and make them flat against the bike. Surely he will go in now!

NO!!

His front wheel is still sticking out. One last shot! Remove the pedals. Thank god I keep my tools to hand. Pedals off, he’s almost in. The driver looks at me with a grin, gives Donkey one last heave and quickly pulls the door down.

He’s in!!

I’m dripping with sweat; Kellie’s running towards me. The conductor is pushing us on the bus. We hope we have all our bags. A quick check round, we do!!

We did it! Adrenaline pumping. Big smiles. We collapse in our seats. And celebrate with another well-earned peanut butter and jam sandwich.

Plans, plans and more plans

Over the next couple of days we locate a Decathlon (a huge outdoor shop), and get Donkey fixed. It involved a lot of pushing and train catching, but he lives to fight another day.

bike fix decathlon

The rollercoaster ride of bicycle touring continues. I’ve read a few blogs which romantacise such adventures, they make it all seem so easy. We definitely don’t.

We go through Plan A, B, C, D, right through to plan fuckety fuck!

The strange thing is, despite all the ups and downs, we love it. Battling through each day, all the unexpected problems, that’s what makes this so special.

We don’t give up, we get through it.

Then we appreciate the easy days and the times luck runs with us. Especially when we get to stay in beautiful locations like this

bike-view

 Our beautiful airbnb stay – Orry-la-Ville

Yes indeed it’s a challenge, but a rewarding one.

France might be trying to break us…

We’ve made it to France, after cycling through Belgium and The Netherlands, and there are times when I’m cycling I couldn’t be happier.

France-riverside

The sun is shining, there is a slight breeze, the birds are tweeting and I’m drifting along, passing the beautiful rolling French countryside, yellow fields of oilseed rape, green forests and gently flowing rivers. The air feels clean. We have a picnic by the side of a river, the sun is warming me as I lie there taking it all in. It’s a perfect moment.

I hope this lasts forever.

Then in a matter of minutes this all changes. The ground opens up and the fiery pits of hell are there to welcome me. Quickly it becomes the most horrific experience I have ever had to endure. An eternity of suffering.

liedown-france

Our first few days in France were tough. Perhaps more mentally than physically.

The first night we planned to camp. After finding a nice site on the Internet we were good to go. It was a short cycle, so by lunchtime we should be have been set up, relaxing in the sun.

We made good time and arrived at said campsite. Only it wasn’t there. A brand new housing estate stood in its place. Ok, so clearly the campsite does not exist. Time for Plan B.

Plan B involved cycling to the nearest hotel another 10 miles away, which we find thanks to our handy GPS. Sadly we’ve discovered our GPS likes to underestimate the distance by roughly a third, we always add a few miles on, so as not to be disheartened.

Around mile 2 of this additional 10+ miles I start to experience all the joys of being a woman at that special time of month. I shall spare you the details, but right now I’m in pain and not happy.

Eventually we arrive at the hotel on the outskirts of beautiful industrial estate, next to and equally visually appealing motorway. I don’t care, there is a bed, shower and Wi-Fi. I’m firmly back in my happy place. We use our camping stove to whip a delightfully tasty meal of tuna and pasta sauce. I devour it in an instant.

france little chef

Lesson learned – let’s make plans

Having learnt from our initial mistake we spend a few hours making accommodation plans for the next day. We cross check our choice of camp site with several websites and even look on google maps hoping it’s up to date. It seems to be, we’re happy it exists.

We also plan another 2 nights of our journey, content with our choices we sleep soundly.

The majority of the next day I’m ecstatic. It’s truly beautiful and I feel so lucky to outside cycling my way through this stunning countryside, we are cycling through the Somme region. The flat lands of Belgium and The Netherlands are far behind and despite the testing hills I’m happy with the stunning change in scenery.

Now France is a little bit camping crazy. There are signs everywhere. So when your approaching your destination and you’ve not seen a sign, you start to worry.

Arriving at the destination we find yet another housing estate!

Slightly broken we stumble towards a shop and in our best French, which basically involves badly pronouncing words from a phrase book to a bemused shop assistant, to try to find some accommodation. Thankfully the shop assistant is able to speak a little bit of English to help us on our way.

She points us onwards to the next town just 4 miles away, where two hotels await us.

To our despair the first is closed and the second is full. Three accommodation strikes in one day, our luck is out. Rob is ever the optimist, but even this has dampened his spirits.

I start to think, ‘What the f**k am I doing?’ Most people go to a 5* resorts for their honeymoon, and I’m again without a place to stay for the night with very few options left.

After a moan, a snickers bar and a regroup we decide there is actually only one option. Find a field and covertly camp.

france cyclists

I was a little bit jealous of these guys on their tiny lightweight bikes

Unlike Scotland, wild camping in France is illegal so we are taking a bit of a risk. The Lonely Planet actually says you risk the wrath of a farmers shotgun if caught. We convince ourselves this is scaremongering, find a secluded wood and set us and Donkey up for a night of camping.

We cook tuna pasta (again) and settle in for the night. Only slightly jumping at every noise we hear in case it’s a disgruntled farner wanting us off his land.

This isn’t so bad, we are in a beautiful setting, close to nature. But our bad luck was not done with for the day. Settling into bed, I hear a noise pffffft noise. Nope, it’s not a trump from my beloved husband.

I ask him, “Rob does that sound like air escaping from somewhere?”

We’d bought two fancy pants inflatable sleeping mats. Lightweight but comfortable and they reflect your heat back, to keep you toasty warm. Amazing inventions.

Well, amazing when they work. The one I was laid on had a faulty valve and collapsed immediately. The cool of the floor leaking through, making me cold to the bone.

We spend the rest of the night squashed onto one of them. Which is less than half the size of a single bed. It isn’t a comfortable nights sleep.

France-wild-camping

We survive the night undetected by any trigger happy farmers and set off on our merry way in the early morning.

There are lots of hills in France and whilst I swear my way up them as my legs feel like they’ve been set on fire, coming down is bliss.

There is no greater part to my day then when Rob says the word, “Coast.”

We even hit a high of 29mph on a downhill that day.

WTF??!!

We come to a town and see lots of the lovely camping signs. It’s only lunchtime but as its a nice day and we’ve hit our daily target we decide to call it a day.

But it is a familiar story that awaits us. All three of them have closed down. WTF??!! Where have all the campsites gone?

Onwards to the next town. Where not a campsite or a hotel await us. Then the next town. Still nothing.

We continue riding. Our energy levels low and our spirits even lower. We cycle in silence.

Then a miracle! Out of nowhere I see the word motel!

Forgetting all the 10 words of French I know, I run in and ask if they have room. They are actually closed as it’s a holiday in France, but they take pity on us and let us have a room.

Never have two people been so happy to be in a room with a bed and a shower. A day without such luxuries made me so appreciative of them. Quickly we have gone from the depths of despair, to smiling like a buffoon at the sight of a kettle in a motel room!

We are back on top of the world, ready for whatever is thrown at us next.

Honestly every day is filled with these moments. I’ve never done anything that can change my emotions so quickly. There are many times a day I question our sanity for taking this on. Then there are many times a day I question why we didn’t do this sooner.

Oh, and just when you thought our bad luck had finished….

The next day ran without a hitch. Fate decided it was not ok with this, so the following day we broke Donkey (our tandem bike)….

Pedal Challenge Europe – The highs and lows (so far)

Six miles. That’s the furthest distance Kellie had pedalled on a bicycle, before this European cycling trip (or honeymoon) we’ve embarked upon. I‘m not too far ahead, with 16 miles.

The aim is to get from Amsterdam to Florence, via The Netherlands, Belgium and France.

Yesterday, on our seventh day of riding, we managed 45 miles, our biggest distance so far, riding from Antwerp to Gent.

pedal drempelsThere may be bumps ahead

It’s not a huge amount I know. But our burning thighs and heavy eyes, scream that it is. Sleep is not a problem each day, staying awake is.

The whole thing is ridiculous concept for two extremely unseasoned cyclists, the idea dreamt up by Kellie in a moment of madness. I think she regretted it the moment the words left her mouth, “let’s cycle Europe”. I immediately said, “YES”. Her face instantly replied OH SHIT!

The weight of it all

Without being too cruel to our much-loved Donkey (our bike), he is the cheapest tandem bicycle we could find. We could have quite easily called him Elephant due to his immense weight. But his wheels go round, and that’s all that matters.

Then there is at least at least 35-40kg of luggage, gear and food that we carry with us each day.

Oh yeah, I also forgot to mention we did no training for this. Zilch! We thought any amount of training would just scare us.

It’s a world away from the comfortable house sitting gigs we’ve had for the last 16 months. But sometimes it’s a necessity to escape your comfort zone.

We sped (not sure that’s the correct term for our snail pace) through the Netherlands in the matter of days, cracking a smile as we passed the België sign. The realisation finally hitting home that we are actually doing this, CYCLING EUROPE!!

pedal-Belgie

Pedal Challenge

When we hit Belgium, the wind formed a barrier. “You shall not pass!” seemed to be its message, but we creaked on ever so slowly for two days. Although the question of, “what the fridging hell are we doing?” was on both our lips.

Then we arrived at our accommodation each night, completely knackered, but happy. We did it! We made it through the day.

For us it is a big challenge, but one which we desperately need. Each day we wake up and have a goal, to get from A to B. On rest days we get the glorious pleasure of doing nothing, or taking in the city sights, or eating the delicious local pastries (Kel hates me a bit for this as her parasite recovery stops her from doing it, she has to watch me stuff my face).

pedal-street-antwerp pedal-antwerp-flagAntwerp is definitely one of our unexpected highlights so far

pedal-calories-cake

Not having a function each day was something I often struggled with when house sitting. I set targets, like learning to make websites, or attempting to learn a new language, but these came up short to this current physical challenge.

Maybe I’m weird, but there is nothing more satisfying than being physically exhausted at the end of the day rather than mentally drained.

Divorce Bike

The divorce bike, as tandems are often nicknamed, makes us work as a team. When we are tired mistakes are inevitable, and so are frustrated snaps. But those moments pass quickly, we pedal through them. Suddenly Kellie is excitedly shouting, “Look at the little lambies!” as we pedal through spring in the flat open countryside, past the fields and canals.

pedal-kid-goat

Spring in all its cuteness

This adventure is definitely one to share and a tandem suits us perfectly.

We have settled into nice little routines in the morning. Kel makes breakfast, organises lunch and the food bag. I pack the panniers and carry out essential bike maintenance (or EBM as we now call it). I have become geekily addicted to a spot of EBM, making sure our bike is roadworthy each day.

Our cycling day usual involves this: Pedal, stop, eat. Pedal, stop, eat. Pedal, stop, collapse, stretch, shower, eat and finally bed.

Then there is the daily laundry to keep up with. Underpants and socks join us in the shower, getting a squirt of shower gel and good foot stomping. It’s important to keep them fresh with only 3 pairs of undies to choose from. I wouldn’t want to inflict my cheesy feet on anyone.

It’s an uncomplicated way of life. All you need is an average bike, an average level of fitness, and some cream to stop chafing and away you go! I wish we’d done it sooner.

We have ourselves a challenge, and despite our achy legs, all the moaning and groaning each day, we are hitting new highs in our travelling life.

Tomorrow we make haste to Bruges!

Planes, Trains and Bicycles – The bike saga continues

Waves of frustration. That’s the perfect way to sum up the last week, as we wait impatiently to get our bike on the road.

bike old peopleHopefully us someday soon!

Last week we arrived in Amsterdam chomping at the bit, ready to start our tandem cycle tour of Europe. The only problem being our bike had gone AWOL somewhere on route from the oversized luggage section at Luton Airport to the airplane.

48 hours later the bike arrived. All seemed well after a quick glance over. We unpacked it and assembled all the bits and pieces; quickly improving our novice cycling knowledge.

Annoyingly first appearances were deceiving. Those carefree baggage handlers had managed to buckle both wheels despite packing him in 150 metres of bubble wrap. We thought we’d been overprotective, on second thoughts they may have handled him more delicately if we had placed him in cling film.

The bike christening

You might have noticed I called the bicycle him a few times. It just doesn’t seem sufficient to describe something that will, eventually, be carrying our lives and possessions for many miles, as an ‘It’. We’ve christened him Donkey. It’s more affectionate than it may seem, we both love donkeys and they always seem a bit sad, which is definitely the case here with his wonky wheels.

Donkey needs repairs. Not to worry, I thought, Amsterdam is the king of bicycling. As you walk through town, the swarm of bikes is incredible. Like bees around a hive, somehow they never collide. Although near misses are plenty, as are bicycle repair shops.

It seems Donkey is a unique case though; his tyres are an odd size/gear combination (don’t ask). After calling what seemed like a billion repair shops, I gave up hoping for a quick fix that very day. It was Saturday; the quickest the new parts would arrive… Wednesday.

Be still brave Donkey, you will soon be fixed. He seemed unmoved by the news. Kellie and me decided to moan about it a bit longer, just to let off some steam.

In the grand scheme of things this wasn’t a big deal, but the delay then the damage made it seem so.

We decided to upgrade our accommodation, a little treat to boost moral.

The hut we are staying in (or shed as we call it) is an icebox at night. But the campsite is full of luxury accommodation, not too dissimilar to our tiny house dream. Budget happily thrown out of the window we headed off to reception. And then turned directly back again. We discovered the entire campsite was booked (besides the icebox sheds of course).

After another hour of futile internet accommodation searching, we raised the white flag and accepted our fate. Back to the shed for us, and wearing every single item of clothing we’d brought, making hot water bottles and maybe even sneakily using the hob to heat the place. We can live with that.

Time for operation restore positivity.

This mainly involves cake. We visit places (using the trains) and eat cake. Thankfully the Netherlands is not the worst place to be stranded, and the bits in between cake eating have been rather delightful.

I have convinced myself that the dessert eating is necessary training for our impending tandem escapade. Calories are important aren’t they?

I am not going to lie, it has been frustrating being stationary, but I tell myself soon this will be a distant memory. Instead we play tourist for a week, not the plan but still fun.

bike cakebike canalHaarlem bikebike crazy kelMental wife keeping me amused

flag bikemore cake bikeIf you like our pics follow us on instagram.com/hungryescapades

On the plus side I’ve had a good vibe from the people we have met and the places we have seen so far. Friendly, flat and picturesque are the things that stick in my brain. Obviously the flat part being the most important bit, for our unknowing legs.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the bike parts will be suitable for Donkey and our stuttering start will stop spluttering. We will know by Wednesday…

Don’t feel sorry for us though, tomorrow we are off to Haarlem for afternoon tea. Scones, clotted cream and English breakfast tea, more training innit.

Tandem honeymoon goes wrong – The plan and frustration

It’s the first day of our three month honeymoon and my Lord has it been eventful few hours. It wasn’t in the plan to be writing a post today. We should be sat weary legged at our maiden campsite, enjoying the satisfaction of pedalling to our bed for the night.

But we are not. No cycling action today. Just frustration!

Before I reveal the source of frustration, first I should finally announce our plans for this trip (Although they are so sketchy I’m not sure if you can actually call them a plan).

We are cycling Europe on a tandem for 3 months. Today we landed in Amsterdam and our final destination is Italy, via Belgium, France and maybe even Switzerland. I would like to get to Florence, as it’s a ridiculously romantic place and would be a fitting end to our honeymoon.

We shall see… Having never taken on such a challenge we don’t have a clue what distance we can cover, especially with over 60kg of bike and gear to haul. Hopefully we have an innate talent and we will be speeding over flats and mountains. If not we will just catch a couple of trains to help us on our way.

We haven’t booked a single thing. No house sits. No hotels. Nothing! This freedom makes me smile from ear to ear.

The tandem is our faithful steed, due to the fact that we are very different speeds on separate bikes and Kellie has a permanent scared face when solo cycling.

I’m proud of the fact that she is doing something that scares her. In fact I can happily say it scares me too!

For some this maybe a walk in the park, but for us newbies, deciding on a whim to cycle a large part of a continent is just a tad daunting.

That’s the plan revealed… What’s the problem?

So what happened today to make my blood pressure go through the roof? (You hopefully asked)

OUR BIKE GOT LOST!

plan tandemNot in the plan – they lost this huge tandem

Yes, thank you EasyJet for losing our bike on the shortest flight distance ever. London Luton to Amsterdam, you practically take off and land immediately. Obviously the bike never made the flight.

I don’t usually get stressed, but stuff like this gets on my nerves. When you do all you can to make everything go smoothly and then hand it over to someone else and it goes tits up!

We sat patiently waiting, hoping, that the big beast of a bike was just taking it’s time getting from the plane to oversized luggage. But alas no, we are bike-less, for now at least.

After speaking to the Baggage Claim Desk we were left with no other options, find accommodation and wait for the bike to emerge from the depths of the black hole that is more commonly known as Luton Airport.

By the way EasyJet wont help you find accommodation, or offer to pay for their mess up or show any sympathy for your situation, that would be a ridiculous idea. Sort it out yourself is basically the message you get, whilst you hope that somebody pulls their finger out and finds your essential wheels.

Thankfully we had a campsite in mind, which is accessible by the fine Dutch railway system. One last rant though, we had to walk about 3km from the train station to campsite with 35kg of gear that is most definitely bike shaped and not human compatible, in the hot sun! We ruled out a place to stay in the town centre, the last minute prices were crazy.

Right my rage is over, the bike should hopefully reach us tomorrow (if they can find it).

plan cabin

We have checked into a wonderful cabin in the woods. Who cares that it only has bunk beds?! How romantic! I’m sat outside on a wooden bench enjoying the sun and the birds are tweeting away, plus Kellie just brought me a cup of tea and a packet of ginger biscuits. Happy.

LATEST UPDATE: The bike is due on a flight this evening! At least EasyJet appear to sort things quickly. Food update – We’ve had strong delicious beer and discovered the food in the Netherlands is amazing.

Our secret wedding. In New York!!

Yep that’s right we had a secret wedding in New York.

Wedding-kiss

Here’s how it all happened…

The wedding proposal

We were sitting on the sofa at our farm house sit in Canada. The log fire is roaring and we have a cup of tea in hand. Rob turns to me and asks…

“Do you want to do something fun when we’re in New York?”

Me: “Yeah, ok, what have you got in mind?”

I was thinking it would be some sort of food tour.

Rob: “Do you want to get married?”

Me: “Shut up…no…are you serious?…no…do you mean that…no.”

I said no a lot.

Rob: “Yeah I’m serious, let’s do it, just you and me… somewhere cool!”

Tiniest of pauses.

Me: “Okay let’s do it” as I leapt into to Rob’s arms screaming!

And so that was it, we were getting married in New York. Our favourite city. In six weeks time!!

A change of heart

Marriage wasn’t on our radar. If I’m honest it terrified us both. All the organising, the pressure to do things a certain way, inviting your third cousin twice removed and being centre of attention for an entire day. Nope, it just wasn’t for us.

Being married however is something we could do. We’ve travelled together for 16 months, spending pretty much 24/7 together. If there was a test you had to pass before you got married, I think that we’d ace it.

Plus I’ve known from an early stage, Rob and me are going the distance. Previous crap boyfriends helped make this decision easy.

Once Rob popped the question in his typical understated way, something changed. I instantly felt much more secure and closer to him. I was shocked how a simple question can make you feel so different.

Our little secret…

We’d decided early on this was just going to our little secret. This made the build up even more special for us. It felt like ours. Something that was just about the two of us, which was just how we wanted it to be.

The ‘lengthy’ six week engagement flew by. We spent the time searching online, cobbling together some funky threads for the big day, as well as finding the all important wedding meal venue, putting together our favourite ‘Us’ tunes on a Spotify playlist, and finding cool vintage shops for last minute outfit purchases.

Before we knew it we were saying goodbye to our house sitting duties and jumping on a plane, New York bound.

Our journey to New York was not without event. Our flight from Toronto to New York was cancelled as we sat on the plane on the tarmac. Gutted is not the word. Snow has a lot to answer for.

A night in an average airport hotel was what we were in for, instead of our lovely Airbnb apartment in Brooklyn. The following morning we awoke bleary eyed at 3am to hop on a red eye flight.

The grumpiness didn’t last long once our flight was off the tarmac and 100% on the way to NYC.

WE. ARE. DOING. THIS!

Every now and then we would just look at each with giddy smiles.

No amount of giddiness could stave off sleep. Our plans to take The Big Apple by storm were halted by an essential power nap, as we finally reached our apartment a day late. A couple of hours later we began our New York story.

We landed on the Saturday and spent 3 days exploring, before our wedding on the Tuesday. The whole trip had a completely different focus to our last tourist filled trip 4 years ago.

We almost completely ignored the usual sights. Instead we discovered the cool Williamsburg area, packed full of vintage shops (which are incredible by the way. Cheap and full of clothes thanks to the hipsters who frequent the area).

We also had to sort out the paperwork, heading to the City Clerks office to pick up our marriage license, which you have to do at least 24hrs in advance of the ceremony.

The wedding day

On Tuesday 24th March we practically leapt out of bed, both on a high.

The day was perfect and although not traditional in any sense, it was exactly how we wanted it. We ate breakfast together, drank bucks fizz and listened to our favorite music whilst dressing in the finest clothes we could find. After 16 months of living out of a backpack, I’d like to think we rocked it with our wedding outfits!

We organised a carriage to our wedding… Sorry, I mean we caught the subway train! And walked passed the impressive City Hall and all the grand court buildings to the City Clerk’s office.

wedding-spin

Can I get a witness?

Now, one of the problems you have when organising a secret wedding is the fact that you need a witness. A willing witness complete with identification.

I think this was the only thing that brought nerves to the day. The witness would in fact also have to be our photographer, and filmographer. Quite an important job for a complete stranger.

We stepped into the City Clerks office with some trepidation. The first person we spotted was a lady leaning against the art deco walls reading a book. She could read! This surely was a good sign.

Rob approached her and got straight to the point, “We are getting married today and would love you to be our witness.”

She beamed from ear to ear, “are you serious? I would love too! Oh my God this is amazing! I’m just about to become a Minister so I can marry my friends next week! Oh wow!”

This was Uli. Somehow this complete stranger managed to make our amazing day even more awesome as she agreed to be our witness. Uli has the energy and excitement of someone who loves life. I can see why her friends had asked her to marry them.

She took our camera and immediately began snapping pictures and getting us to pose, in between complimenting even the tiniest details of our outfits. Then handed us a little book of inspiration she carries with her, as we waited to be called for our ceremony.

When you pick someone random to be part of your wedding day, you take a chance. Our roll of the dice paid off, I could not have been happier. Uli truly enhanced our day and I’ll be forever grateful she was part of it.

wedding-witness

The wedding ceremony

We weren’t really sure what to expect from the ceremony, however I probably could have given Rob a heads up as to what finger the wedding ring goes on.

This awkward moment was quickly followed by the stunned silence of Rob when the Clerk asked him if he wanted to say anything to me. His off the cuff bumbling was full of sentiment and love…although he’ll tell you different. My teary eyes told the full story.

We then headed out onto the steps outside as Uli snapped more pictures. The whole thing flashed by.

Then our star witness was gone, and it was just the two of us again hugging on a park bench surrounded by the incredible New York skyline.

“You want to go eat Mrs Ward?” Rob said.

We went uptown for steak and cocktails, before heading back to our apartment where I made a cup of tea and put my slippers on. Not the normal end to a wedding day, but we had a flight to catch that very evening. Jetting back home to spread our exciting news to our shocked family and friends.

Our day was perfect; I wouldn’t have done a single thing differently. I’m incredibly lucky to have met such a wonderful, kind, funny and tolerant person and I’m even luckier that I get to call this man my husband.

wedding-proud wedding-pigeon wedding-park-benchwedding-shoe

So what’s next? A honeymoon of course! Probably not your typical honeymoon.

Next week we head off to Europe, with a tandem bike! A three month cycling adventure is the plan… More to come very soon.

Farewell to house sitting – the kindness of strangers

Today is the last day, of our last scheduled house sit!

We are finishing it here on a beautiful snow covered farm in Alberta, with not a single sausage lined up for the future. Not a bad way to end…

house-sit-alberta

This is a new feeling for us. For most of the last 16 months, we have had a least one house sit in the bank, whether it was way in the future or just around the corner.

There was always a commitment we had to fulfil.

By choice we have chosen to step away from house sitting (at least for a while) and try something different.

It’s weird when you leave your job and head on an indefinite journey; you feel a huge sense of freedom. But now I realise there are layers freedom.

House sitting was a way to see many different parts of the world cheaply, and even though we’ve enjoyed it massively, it was still a commitment to fulfil.

In our next escapade, we only have a flight to make, and the rest we make up as we go along.

So yes, we are indeed excited about this. But I’m not going to go into our future plans just now (more to come soon).

This is more about the amazing experience house sitting as given us. And to be more specific, the amazing people we have met.

This is the bit that has surprised us, the people. Initially when we set off on our travels, we thought about the cute animals and far flung destinations we would be heading to.

You also think about the responsibility you have to the homeowner to maintain their house and look after their beloved pets.

I never imagined we would meet such friendly and generous people.

People who warmly invite you into their home, put their trust in you and make you feel instantly welcome.

You can usually tell from the tone of the communication pre house sit, how things are going to pan out. Do not ignore any negative vibes you get! We have done so once in the past, and when we did, we regretted it. But that was one single occasion, which we learnt from quickly.

Back to the good people.

These people all have their own particular way of showing you their appreciation. They happily give you a little insight into their lives and personalities.

They make their favourite meal for you when you arrive. Excited to show off their culinary skills.

Or when they discover you are intolerant to most edible things (i.e. Kellie), they panic slightly at first, and then go out of their way to find those ingredients they had never even heard of.

When you are ill in Mexico and new to town (i.e. Kellie again), they go out of their way to find you a good doctor.

We’ve had people buy us tickets to their favourite Christmas show, “We have to go every year! We’d love you to go!”

They take us to their favourite hangouts and restaurants, so keen to share what makes them happy in their hometown.

I don’t want to get into writing what people offered as some sort of competition, more just to show the unexpected kindness from people who were strangers not so long ago.

Some gestures are simple and thoughtful. Others are expensive and cause disbelief when offered.

All are unexpected and remembered by us, to this day.

People have stocked their fridges and cupboards with mountains of food, bought us wine, loaned us their car to go and explore their country when they return from their holiday.

Rescued us from an Ecovillage (thanks Chris and Lynn).

Friends have been made on a subconscious level, and also in ceremony. We have been given white scarves to symbolise our new friendship. A touching gesture, made by someone profoundly affected by a recent trip to Nepal. Genuinely an amazing moment to share with someone, who just a few weeks earlier, we had never met.

I have tried to avoid naming names in this list as much as possible, but Judy and Lee have to be named as they allowed us stay in their holiday let for free for a few days, before they had even met us. Crazy kindness.

I should have posted this long ago to give them a plug for their beautiful self catered rental in San Pancho, with beautiful ocean/sunset views and a pool! Plus it’s a tiny walk to the beach. You should all go and have a look at here. 

swimming pool house

kel swimming pool

 Enjoying the swimming pool and sunset at Judy and Lee’s

For me it’s important to write this, because I know how lucky we are. I’m not trying to show off about all the free stuff we were given. More highlight the good people of the world and the different forms in which it is demonstrated.

The news is full of all the crap that happens on a daily basis, I don’t want to ignore these things. Just be thankful for the delightful people we’ve had the chance to meet.

So thank you, thank you. THANK YOU to all our kind new friends both four and two legged!!

PS when we do head back to house sitting one day, please potential homeowners don’t feel you have to do all this stuff. We don’t have a diva list and just get on with things. A friendly smile, cute pets and a comfy bed are all we require.

We use Housecarers.com and Trustedhousesitters.com to find our house sits.