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UniCycle50 - The Ride
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NEW FOR 2019! I'm currently in the process of updating this site after my 2018 ride across Europe. You can read more about that in my new book, Biking Broken Europe.

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Great People

Here are some of the people I met on my trip. It was a pleasure to meet each and every one of them.


ITV's Paul, who filmed my departure from home on the Isle of Man at the end of March.

Aunt Rita, cousin Danielle, her husband Paul and two of their four munchkins in Blackburn, my first night's stay.

Yet another Paul, BBC Northampton's, who interviewed me on my way through the Midlands.

In early April, I visited OU HQ in Milton Keynes. This is Robyn, Queen of Platform, the Open University's community web site (now sadly defunct) one of the places where I blogged the trip.

On my ride from Milton Keynes to London I had company: The Blood Pressure Association's Mark, and OU students Annie and Fenella (with trademark two finger salute). It was Fenella who came up with the UniCycle name, by the way.

This trip has often been about the kindness of strangers. Georgie (second from left) got in touch when she read about tent problems I was having. I ended up sleeping at her Southsea home before the ferry to the Channel Islands.

Sarah, centre, is my cousin, but I hadn't seen her for about twenty years. She lives in a village not a million miles from Paris. Her husband, Cyril, cooked me andouillette, a sausage that's not for the faint-hearted.

In Paris, I met Egyptian Kareem and Welsh Dewi at a polyglot event. A chance to practise foreign languages or an opportunity for expats to speak English? You decide.

Not far from the Champagne region of France, I met Andrew, a man with a plan - to get his electric bike from Norfolk to Sicily - although with no actual maps.

Joelle and Joris, a friendly Dutch couple, with whom I shared a gite near the Luxembourg border. They were cycling their way to Timbuktu. I've no idea if they got there.

In early May I arrived in Brussels, a city where the cheapest bed was €200 because of an international fish festival. OU student Jo (left) and her living room floor came to the rescue. She also showed me some great bars. This photo was taken the next day when we met Mike, a serial OU degree taker, and I ate a giant plateful of raw mince.

Despite looking like a couple of bruisers in this photo, Ferienland and Reinhilda, if those were indeed their real names, are a fun German couple who hijacked me at a Wolfsburg campsite and plied me with tea and far too many cakes.

The Lovely Nina and I spent a wonderful week in Berlin. She later visited me in Zurich, Madrid, Rome, Athens and Istanbul, thereby enjoying the highlights of my trip without any of the effort.

Towards the end of May, I hit Prague, a truly amazing city. This is Jamie, blues guitarist and singer and all-round smashing chap.

Still in Prague I popped into the OU office and met Jana and Lucie. They took me out for beer, dumplings and laughs.

Sasha is an OU student and was my Prague tour guide, taking me to the museum for some Czech history, a very popular ice cream joint and a lovely, little park, places I'd never have seen without her.

Next to Brno, the Czech Republic's second city and home to Cat, a fellow Lancastrian, and Ed, both Oxford Czech language graduates. Cat allowed me to watch her bust some moves during a folk dancing session, a truly bizarre evening.

It was only a short hop to Bratislava, the Slovakian capital, and a visit to another OU office and Katarina.

A day's ride from Bratislava is Vienna, the location of my planetary science exam in mid-June. Here are OU Austria staff, Austrian Alexandra and Canadian Sarah, enjoying a breakfast with me the following day.

From Vienna to Graz, my home for five years back in the late 90s and still host to many friends. This is Nem and Nige, who sourced me some bizarre sweet snacks despite Fish Chocolate being out of stock.

Jo pulls a face...

...and so does Pete.

Oliver, top bloke, was my business partner for several years.

Christian Payne aka Documentally came to Graz to interview me and take some photos. Unfortunately, I didn't return the favour. This is the only one of him I have. Still, the liver dumpling soup was delicious.

Damien, bloke of Jo (from four photos ago) cycled out of Graz with me on my way towards Liechtenstein. We got lucky when the town where we stopped for lunch was having a party, and then the one at the end of the same day was in the middle of its Stadtfest. It all ended in beers.

Halfway through Austria I met a German couple cycling in the opposite direction. It just shows that if you keep it up there's no age limit for this kind of thing.

By the end of June, I'd reached Kitzbuhl and the home of OU student Louise (left) and good friend Claudia (bottom right).

Early July saw me in Switzerland. OU veterans Elli, Padi and family met me in Buchs and cycled back to their place with me where they fed me marmots and donkey milk and looked after my bike while I flew back to the UK for a week.

The OU's mathematical modelling residential MSXR209 was a really amazing week with an instant bunch of new mates. Here we have Adele, me (it's the sunglasses-as-headband that makes it look like a mullet - honest!), Don, Chris, Sonya and Sarah.

Back on the bike, out of Switzerland and back into France. This is Julian, a former traveller, horseman and extremely chatty Frenchman.

Still in France, I bumped into two Spanish cyclists, Rafa and Luis, as they cycled from Trieste back to Rafa's farm near Zaragoza.

Not far from Andorra, Paul, a woodwork teacher from the Midlands, was doing more or less the same tour as I was, but he had a little help from his motorcycle.

By early August I was in beautiful Andorra and met the wonderful Clare, sailor, writer, hospital volunteer and a lady with more stories than the Arabian Nights.

Not a person but closely related. In early September I met several monkeys in Gibraltar. It was all fun and games until this one started tearing apart my gear.

On my last day's cycling of the year, good mate Boz rode the final leg with me, a day that descended into liver abuse and memory loss...

...and here's Mrs Boz otherwise known as Polly.

As soon as the ride finished I was off to Majorca for my second OU residential. This time it was SXR208 and astronomy, lots of fun messing about with telescopes. This was my project team: Peter, me, Graham, Kate and Alaine. The black 'n' white photo doesn't do justice to Alaine's incredible rainbow hair. It was a work of art...

...and on the last night there was a student-organised beach party, a fitting end to a superb six months of travel.


Chico accompanies my departure from Nerja on 30th of March with a sad farewell song. And then I was off.

Nige and Nem, friends from Graz, who just happened to be holidaying on Day Two of my route in southern Spain. We met up in Montefrio for lunch.

I met Diego on the outskirts of Guadalajara. We cycled into town together. His excellent English was a result of spending three months studying it in north Wales. He'd hated the place.

Towards the end of April I arrived in Vence, a village near Nice, and the home of my uncle Mike & auntie Liz, always a very entertaining couple. Liz made me a lovely rabbit stew.

And then it was a quick hop up the coast, through Monaco, to visit Vicky, my cousin, and hubby Richard. Here Vicky inspects my box of maggots and decides against trying any, the young fool.

Eric the sound guy at Riviera Radio where I was interviewed by Vicky.

On to Italy. The magnificently monikered Carlo Mistraletti - doctor, politician and photographer - stopped me on a sunny morning in Piacenza to take a picture. He had an exhibition starting in a couple of months but I'd be gone by then. Actually, I'd be gone within the hour.

My first OU student of the year, and what a treat it was! Silvia (left), studying English and French, took me and her daughters, Zoe and Valentina, to Antica Cereria, a great restaurant in Parma. An excellent meal and very fun company. Unfortunately, upon leaving, we discovered Valentina's bike had been nicked.

Geraldo, an extremely friendly pizza man in a country full of extremely friendly people, halfway between Modena and Bologna. Two weeks after I cycled through Modena it suffered an earthquake that killed 15 people.

This is Julio and his giant hound Vincenti at a campsite in Bologna. I helped him position his caravan and, in return, he shared an ice cold bottle of sparkly stuff he'd brought with him. He was a little bit odd if I'm being honest.

On the road to Perugia, I met Franny, a Mexican MA student and keen cyclist. She chose to study in Italy because of its high incidence of landslides, the topic of her dissertation. No one told me about landslides.

Minutes after being stopped by the police for cycling on a motorway (I had no other option, officer!) I met Shane, an Irish cyclist who'd quit his life in London to live as a WWOOFer - that's an organic farm volunteer - and spend his free time exploring the Italian countryside on his bike.

The 16th of May was Roman OU Student Day. First I met Giovanni, a banker studying maths...

...and then it was Christine, a bubbly Canadian, former news correspondent for an Iranian TV station, doing an MA in Social Science...

...and finally Elaine, another Canadian, studying art history and classics, pictured here with Brian, both tour guides with varying degrees of enthusiasm for the job.

One day from Rome is Latina. Here I met the utterly charming Francesco, an OU student and epidemiologist, and his wife Leandra. They took me to see one of the best views ever, from the top of Mount Circeo, and for a lovely meal in the medieval village of Sermoneta followed by a very comfortable night at their home. Wonderful people!

As the lone camper on a site in Castellabate, owners Nico and Gino invited me into their karaoke palace, whose loudspeakers seemed to serve as an anti-entertainment centre for the surrounding villages. There I murdered a handful of songs at ear-splittingly loud volumes. Sorry southern Italy.

In mid-June, on the way to Bari and the ferry to Greece, I ran into these three friendly guys in a petrol station bar. One of them said how he'd love to do a trip like mine but it was too scary, which was news to me.

In Omonia Square, a group of Athenian coppers showed on interest in my bike. I asked them if it was a busy day. They said it's always a busy day and then spent the next twenty minutes chatting to me.

On the way out of Greece I met round-the-world record attempter, Sean Conway and his magnificent beard on the way in from Turkey. By this point his attempt was over. He'd been hit by a truck in America, which had scuppered things a tad. Since then you might have seen him on The One Show. In 2013 he was the first man to swim from Land's End to John o'Groats.

And now seventeen photos of people from Turkey, the friendliest nation in Europe. Don't be fooled by their often glum expressions in these photos. They had huge, beaming grins right until the camera pointed at them. These two petrol station girls, who gave me a coffee, were unusually photo-smiley.

On the way to Bandirma, Hussain (centre), economics student and summertime roadside restaurant manager, plied me with the first of about two million glasses of free Turkish tea.

Outside Bursa, Erdinc was stood at the side of the road waiting to supply me with cake just like my very own support team. Thank you, Erdinc.

A puncture, a collection of knackered spare tubes and a split back wheel rim saw me limping into Bozuyuk to be patched up by this guy in his tiny workshop...

...the next day I made it as far as Eskisehir where Ibrahim mended it properly with a new rim...

...and while Ibrahim worked, Umit, the barber from next door, chatted with me and ordered the teas.

Cycling out of Eskisehir, Emre, a young student whose degree course I couldn't discover because of a mutual inability to speak the other's language, pulled up at the same traffic lights and we cycled together for forty kilometres and communicated using sign language.

On the way to Konya I was stopped by a gang of road builders, led by Mehmet (second left) who wanted to speak to me in Russian for some reason.

In a caff in Karaman the tea flowed with more Turkish cyclists.

This cook in Karaman prepared me a brand new offal experience, a delicious sheep's intestine sandwich.

Despite asking to be photographed and inviting himself back to the UK with me, this freaky-eyed fella still wouldn't smile.

On the top of a mountain, just as the road plunges 1400 metres on the way to Mut, there sits a little makeshift roadside shack where three generations of women will prepare fresh burek for you using griddles on the floor...

...and this is another Emre, ex-soldier and patriach of the burek family.

In Mut itself, a hammer-wielding Mustafa offered to repair my bike by hitting it very hard indeed. I declined.

In mid-July, back in Turkey after a few days in Cyprus, I was invited into the fruit emporium of a bloke who will forever be known as Melon Man.

Ramadan kicked in (or Ramazan as it's known in Turkey). Being unable to share it with me, the offers of free tea dried up but it didn't stop people from pulling up at the side of the road and demanding photos as though I were Brad Pitt. These were two of 'em.

Remember Emre from eleven photos ago? On my way to Istanbul and back in Eskisehir, a town of 650,000 people, I bumped into him again. He took me to meet his cycling friends, two of whom - brother and sister, Gokay (second left) and Eda (third left) - are Turkish champion mountain bikers.

In mid-August, on the road to Sofia, at the top of a pass, I met a team of Belgian ramblers walking from Vienna to Istanbul. Two minutes later, on a perfectly smooth bit of tarmac, a metallic thunk told me that I'd just broken the fifth spoke of the year...

...luckily in the next village was Koko (right) and his bike yard. He fixed it for free.

Mario was an English teacher who spent four days a week living by a lake, sleeping under a table in bad weather, so he could windsurf as often as possible. His 'house', devoid of walls or ceilings, contained an interesting collection of junk, including an assortment of plastic hats.

Near Kosovo's Gnjilane, Ramo flagged me down in German (he'd worked in Austria), gave me cake and energy drinks and then took me for a tasty lunch of kebabs at a nearby petrol station restaurant.

In Macedonia, near Kicevo, I got speaking to Vuki (left) and friend at a petrol station. Despite having a law degree Vuki couldn't find work except here at the station.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina's Sarajevo at the end of August, I met OU student and UN peace advisor, Julian (right), and his work colleague, Fedya, who had lived through the siege. We visited the famous brewery there and the next day Julian took me to see the now derelict 1984 Winter Olympics toboggan run up in the hills where the snipers once operated.

This is Fleur in Zagreb, a French-Danish clown and OU student, who works for a charity brightening the lives of kids and the elderly...

...and this is Nadav, Fleur's friend and clown-in-training. He's a nice, smiley person, as was Fleur, which I guess is useful for a clown.

My eighth and final OU student of the year, Moica, is a ballet dancer working in Slovenia's Ljubljana. We met for drinks on top of a skyscraper in the middle of this lovely, little city.

On the 12th September at precisely one minute past six in the evening, after eleven solid hours on the saddle, I arrived in Mureck, a village sixty kilometres south of Graz and home of Damien and Jo and their holidaying friend Stephen (right). We celebrated with bubbles, pizza and a ten month out-of-date Chinese black egg.

Stephen & Dorothy, a schoolfriend of Jo, were also staying in Mureck. I gave them a tour of Graz and in return Dorothy successfully located the stained glass window of Hitler and Mussolini in a church in Graz.

Pete and I cycled through the lumpy contoured Weinstrasse south of Graz to meet the others for wine and platefuls of fat-based products in a Buschenschank. I don't remember much about the ride home.

Susanne, Mrs Pete, in another Buschenschank a couple of days later. More wine, more fat, more laughs.

Kate and Mike lived in Graz when I did back in 1573. I hadn't seen 'em for about six years. It was great to catch up. They've got kids and stuff now, like grown-ups.


Pete cycled with me into Hungary on the first day of this year's ride.

Robert, who works in a hotel in Budapest. He likes to take his guitar down to the Danube early in the morning.

Martin cycled with me on my first day in Romania. He gave me biscuits.

Cornel and his daughter. His family runs a Romanian campsite with profits going to help the poor.

Varsi and his quad bike helped me find one of Romania's non-roads. They're on the map but barely exist in real life.

In Galati, I met Gabriel (right) and his friend whose name sounded like Usnutz but I'm guessing I've misspelled that.

At a lovely little pink house in a tiny village, Liuba prepared me a Moldovan feast.

Eric, Florence and kids from France were cycling from Odessa to Helsinki.

Shortly after a massive buffet for Orthodox Easter. The women gave me bags of food and sneaked wine into my rucksack.

It was Maria (centre) who invited me to the Easter do. She's here with Acsenti, who I think was trying to convert me, and one of the priests.

After the buffet, they took me to a monastery where, for no reason at all, we were invited to join a lovely Moldovan family for lunch.

Oleksandr, a friendly Ukrainian although a really, really shit driver. His lack of ability brought me very close to death.

Four of the five team members who accompanied me into Minsk: (left to right) English Martin, Belarusian Denis, Bruce - the UK ambassador to Belarus - and Chris, America's number two in the Belarus.

Ambassador Bruce, his wife Henrietta and Martin's missus, Mel.

A friendly team of cycling Germans in the north-east of Poland.

Frank, Vilnius's bike man.

Vytautus, who interviewed me for Lithuania's biggest TV channel.

Dovas and Jolanta, who presented me with a certificate from the mayor of Vilnius.

Nijole, an English teacher, who helped me find a bike shop in a small Lithuanian village and then invited me to lunch.

OU student Paul, who lives an almost self-sufficient life close to the beach in a remote part of Latvia.

Heinz, an Austrian in Latvia.

Via an OU contact I met Glen, former soldier, who took me for beers atop a skyscraper in Riga.

A team of Brits in Estonia heading towards St Petersburg.

A happy coincidence meant I was invited to an all night Longest Day party by a well-oiled group of Estonian Russians.

Welsh Gwydion and German Carol were enjoying a bike tour of Estonia.

I bumped into Jan in Voru. He looks like Hannibal Lecter, doesn't he? He seems to be eyeing up my liver.

Alex and Valya in Ostrov, Russia. She was another English teacher, now retired, who, like Nijole in Lithuania, helped me find a bike shop and then invited me to lunch.

German Jons and Laurence, cyclists in Estonia the second time around.

Johann, an Austrian who seemed to be following me around Estonia.

English Julian and Swedish wife Carolin gave me local knowledge on the ferry from the Aland Islands to Stockholm.

Rune, who helped me navigate a route into Oslo.

My last night on the continent was at Shane's in the Netherlands. His rides make mine look soft.

Matt, cycling for the charity Shelter, at a farm-like campsite in Ardeley.

Paige and Jenny at the OU's HQ in Milton Keynes.

OU student Anne and husband James put me up for the night not far from Milton Keynes. Their garden was amazing.

The next night I met another OU student, Linz, for a few beers in Cheltenham.

Rounding off three nights out with OU students, I met up with Neil and Susan in Cardiff.

While in Cardiff I was interviewed by Jason Mohammad for BBC Radio Wales. He's a nice guy.

Elton cycled me from Bethesda and right out of Wales to the ferry to Ireland.

An over-excited Siobhan (right) and her family in rural Ireland.

On top of Northern Ireland's highest mountain with OU student Mark and French Cleo, who we met at the summit balancing on a wall like a nutter.

In Edinburgh during the Fringe kipping down at the house rented by Fenella and her team of comedians.

A lunch time meeting in Blackburn with Penny and Ivor, still cycling...

...and Ray and Launa.

My aunt Reet provided Blackburn digs.

At the finish line back in Port St Mary. Brother Dave and nephew Conor cycled with me from the ferry in Douglas.

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