Weymouth to Belgrade Days 1, 2 and 3 19th to 21st September 2011

The cycle route across London

The Downloads:

Downloads for this route in Garmin Google Earth and .GPX formats

The files are in .zip format. They need to be unzipped and saved to a directory of your choice. You can then load them into the appropriate application and GPS.

The Blog

Weymouth to Belgrade

Claudie and I made our way to Weymouth station leaving at 5am, an hour which we now know exists. We also discovered that the Weymouth 'Olympic' traffic scheme was devised to work at bicycle speeds. Having hit the first lights on green all the others, of which there are many, turned green as we approached. There is a moral there somewhere.

Claudie and I are both perhaps rather long in the tooth for this kind of adventure. He is a retired racing bike and I don't mean one of those pretend ones devised by the foolish British cycling industry. He is a nice little time trial bike with the much sought after horizontal dropouts and an excellent record.

Unlike me Claudie has been upgraded. He has some nice new Rohloff gears. With the sad but inevitable demise of Spike it is unlikely that anyone out there will write me new legs.

The train to London was busy with commuters who fortunately know how to survive their daily trek. They stay in one place for the journey and don't engage in idle conversations at the top of their voices. It was peaceful and pleasant.

Arriving at Waterloo at 08h50 we had a rather rapid crossing to St Pancras for the 10h25 Eurostar train to Paris. There are now so many bikes in London that they tend to slow one's progress but we still cycled it in about 20 minutes.

Due to the usual lack of baggage space which can be attributed to the late 20th century railways Claudie had to be dismantled for the journey. The alternative was to pay the ransom charged and suffer the delay and ignominy of sending him steerage via the registered luggage office somewhere off the end of the platforms.

Claudie on Eurostar

The main detriment to taking a dismantled bike with its luggage across continents is the sheer weight and inconvenience of having several awkwardly shaped packages. Moving even between platforms becomes a major task involving much hard work.

I can now reveal that I have solved this problem. Claudie can be wheeled along upside down and the panniers hung on top. I have attached some wheels from a Wilkie's bike stabiliser to Claudie's ears. That is the handlebar extensions essential on all bikes with straight bars. I remove Claudie's wheels and strap them to the frame with toe straps so as to lock the handle bars in a T shape with the frame.

With the whole lot covered in a thin nylon bag I was ready to check into Eurostar. Everyone is forced to suffer by the idiots who redesigned a system for boarding a train. Unlike most trains where one just walks up and gets on board, with Eurostar you have to check in at least 30 minutes before departure. They haven't even managed to get the whole creaking system on one level thus wasting time, money and energy moving people between levels.

There is of course the obligatory security x-ray machine and even passport control though all we are doing is leaving to go to another EC country. This of course requires a good deal of walking with luggage and Claudie's system worked fine. His dimensions of 120cm by 90cm allowed him to fit in the luggage rack.

It was a lovely sunny afternoon when we arrived in Paris but as usual it was rather down at heel around Paris Nord station. I had luggage to guard and was in charge of passport and tickets which are usually the stoker's responsibility.

It was a short walk from Gare du Nord to Gare de l'Est and although I used the GPS I hardly needed it. Mind you I did feel a bit like a car towing a caravan as I manoeuvred Claudie and the luggage along the crowded pavements.

Paris East station is both smaller and more pleasant than the North station, though today it was spoilt by building work and being patrolled by gun toting soldiers. The soldiers looked rather too thick to be in charge of lethal weapons. They perhaps should have spent time reading the memorials to those transported from this station to the concentration camps less than 70 years ago.

I ate my lunch sitting on a wall in the sunshine before finding my first class seat on the TGV to Munich. My comfortable single armchair first class seat had almost everything I needed. Newspapers and food and drink, i.e. airline style dinner, was brought to my seat. I had a mains socket for charging the electronics. All I lacked was free wifi.

The journey of over six hours is very lovely. The scenery varied from undulating farm land to deep forest in the foothills of the mountains to the south. We passed through many attractive looking towns and villages.

I passed my time lazily reading and texting, the only communication available to me at a reasonable price in the crazy world of mobile phone charges. As Marvin said 'I have a brain as large as a house and all you want me to do is open the door'. When dark fell I watched the great film of Graham Obree challenging that Boringman who keeps falling off his bike.

Munich station was full of drunken people in lederhosen. They seemed no more unpleasant than most drunks and I never did discover why they were there on a Monday night. Not knowing much about German 'culture' I assume that they do not normally wear fancy dress in this part of Germany but I could be wrong.

I was able to board my 23h40 sleeper to Budapest at 23h00 and was asleep before the train left. It was fairly obvious that we were about to leave the first Europe of the UK, France and Germany. The train is rather elderly and my 'single' is actually a three berth couchette for my sole use. We had a conductor, a morose young man never seen to smile, and with whom any form of communication was difficult.

The Hungarian plains which nearly did for John

I slept well being very tired and did not come to until 07h30. My breakfast of coffee, croissant and meat sandwich arrived, veggie was not an option. Raising the blind I saw that the outlook was flat. Fields stretched away into the distance with no real hills in sight.

Arriving into Budapest station was in some ways like stepping back to France in the 1960s. Most of the trains looked old and of that design only seen in mainland Europe. The people were small and dark ageless peasants, some wearing black.

There were of course the exceptions, the occasional business person and the odd train which could and perhaps does belong to Richard Branson (sic). And there was a good deal of graffiti around, some of it quite high quality.

The station is a rather nice building and there were plenty of places selling food and drink. Unfortunately they would only accept Hungarian things of which I had none. I was not that worried as I had had breakfast and expected to be able to get refreshments on the train.

I stood by the stuttering 1980s departure board watching for the platform number to come up for the Belgrade train. Much to my surprise it burst into life directing me to platform 5 with a full 20 minutes to go before departure.

Finding platform five was not intuitive but made easier by following the others going the same way. I found the carriage number on my ticket and, clambering up the steps from the low platform, settled into my first class compartment.

It was like a ghost train with few passengers and no obvious staff. Strangely just before we left a young woman got on the train hawking a long life light bulb and earphones!

Budapest Rail Station

We left on time but at a meandering speed and appeared to stop at every little station though no one seemed to get on or off. At this stage I think there may be a risk of nearly starving as there is no sign of any food onboard.

Eventually after stopping at many stations, some of which did not even have platforms, we made it to the border between Hungary and Serbia. The Hungarians scrutinised my passport for reasons which can only be clear to them as I was leaving their country.

The train eventually moved on about a km and then the Serbians came aboard. On this occasion my passport was stamped. Then customs came along and took a look at my bike. I think they decided I was not a bike smuggler when I told them what I was doing with it. They didn't even seem interested in the tech which I was perhaps foolishly playing with.

After another three hours of stop and start we finally made it into Beograd station. The station seemed very small for a capital city with only three or four platforms and a bar.

It was good to see John who met me at the train, resplendent in a very bright yellow anorak to protect him from the rain. We had a beer and I assembled the bike. John had not brought his bike as the hotel was only about half a mile away, steeply uphill along a busy and very wet road.

The hotel was rather like an apartment building with a reception desk and rooms on the first floor. The ensuite room was fine with a very good shower and air conditioning. Near the entrance in the street was a convenience store with more or less everything we needed.

We went out for a pizza in the evening and on Wednesday explored the city. Beograd is small and the whole centre easily walkable. The streets are busy and the main shopping centre pedestrianised. Consumerism rules here and there are many smart shops.

Beograd is built on the only significant hill for miles and in a curve of the Danube. At the end of the high street is a spectacular castle commanding superb views.

In the evening we had an excellent restaurant meal. It was easy to choose a variety of vegetarian dishes from the menu and it was a real treat to get such nice food.