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Posted on 23 June 2016
in Stories

From Andorra to Albania (Part One)

Brompton Diaries



Being born to a circus family, I did my first show when I was three years old. I was involved with circus ever since, as a high wire performer and lately as a coach. I worked for companies such as the Moscow Sate Circus, Ringling Bros. and Cirque du Soleil. 

While on tour in Europe a couple of years ago, I decided to buy a Brompton bike to help me move around in the cities that I was working in. Before that, the most time I'd spent on a bike was during my years with Cirque du Soleil, when I was riding a special bike on a high wire 30 feet up in the air. 

I have since become very fond of my Brompton, who I affectionately call “Greengo”.  If there is a sunny day, I feel guilty if I don’t take Greengo out for a ride in the New York City streets. We even participated in the Brompton World Championship in Richmond in 2015.


Why, What, Where

Joining the circus at a young age, I have already done quite a bit of traveling, including most of Europe. Most of it... but not all of it! There are just six or seven of them left, depending who you ask: Andorra, Lichtenstein, Albania, Kosovo, Cyprus, Malta, and Iceland. 

Unlike my circus days though, my mode of transportation will be a bicycle. This means that I will also cross through France, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, and Montenegro. Excluding air travel, my tour should be roughly 3500 km and take around two months.



Andorra Quicky


After a relatively short flight to Barcelona, there was relatively short bus ride to Andorra La Vella and very short bike ride around the city.

Andorra La Vella didn’t disappoint so to speak, it was what I expected: a small town with a flourishing duty free shopping industry. Not much else.

But hey, it isn’t winning, it’s participating that counts. Now only six “wonders of the modern world” left on my list. Next is Liechtenstein. I have a hunch: it may end up being as “exciting” as Andorra. On the bright side, I’ll go there by way of France and Switzerland.

Tomorrow is the “official” start of my cycling trip, so I am going to bed to get some rest before I undertake 75 km through the Pyrenees.



Day 1 - Tri-State


And so it began on a sunny summer morning, this Bromptomaniac set off on a two months cycling adventure, leaving Andorra behind.

The first ride was on a shorter side - 75 km. I planned it short so I could "test the waters". It's the Pyrenees after all and my Greengo isn't meant for endurance riding. Neither am I. But in a short 4,5 hours we reached Puigcerda, a small town with narrow streets on top of a hill, close to Spanish-French border. As I was about to put my tent up, it started to rain. Luckily there was a spare room with four bank beds available, so my very first camping experience is postponed. While I am writing this, a thunderstorm is raging outside.

Today in numbers:

4.5 - hours cycling ,

75 - distance covered in kilometers,

3 - countries crossed (people living in New York area may call it Tri-state),

4 - beds all to myself,

1 - thunderstorm dodged.



Day 2 - The Real Pyrenees


I started the day thinking that the worst part of cycling in the Pyrenees was over: according to Google it was all downhill from now on. Boy, was I wrong: the first 20 something kilometers were all uphill against head wind. It took me more than two hours to cover this distance. Perpignan was 100 km away, and then another 20 km to the camp site. But then, at 25 km there was 10% downhill grade and I was flying. It took me only three more hours to get to Perpignan. The views along the way were to die for: vertical cliffs with monasteries on top of them, lush mountains, snow on the peaks, flowery meadows, river gorges.

20 km later I was at the camp site where for 15€ they let me put up my tent "sans électricité". It took me a while, it was my first time after all. Brand new tent. And guess what, it didn't rain! Will it be comfortable to sleep in? We’ll see.

Tomorrow, first thing in the morning, I'll go dip in the Mediterranean Sea, as it is only 400 meters away. 


Today in numbers:
5h58m - riding time
120.9 km - distance covered
1582 - meters above sea level at the highest point
2717 - calories burnt
2 - bananas that flew out of my saddle bag and, fortunately, didn't cause any damage to the cars behind me



Day 3 - Burn, Baby, Burn


As I promised yesterday, I took a dip in the sea - well, only my fingers did. I had no time for pleasure because I had a long day in front of me: I was cycling to Narbonne and wanted to visit Carcassonne using BlablaCar (car share), one of which was departing from Narbonne at 1 pm. It's about 65 km to Narbonne, so I thought four hours would be enough to get there on time. I did not account for strong head wind, relentless for hours. I could not stop because I didn't have time to spare, so I didn't enjoy my surroundings; all I could see were wind turbines. By the time I reached Narbonne, I was exhausted.

I am a sucker for UNESCO Heritage sites, so I wanted to see Carcassonne’s La Cité, a medieval fortress. The car ride to Carcassonne was 40 min long. I was initially thinking of coming back to Narbonne by bike, but my body said a resounding "No!". So I hopped on another BlaBlaCar.


Today in numbers:

89 km - total distance 

6h35m - total riding time

0 - stops on my way to Narbonne 

12 knots - wind speed

22 knots - wind gusts

1 - proper meal at the end of the day



Day 4 - Béziers Curves


The second night in the tent wasn't much better than the first one, not much sleep again. However, au contraire to yesterday, today's ride was a breeze. I went through the Mediterranean backcountry, if this is applicable to the south of France. Quiet roads with virtually no cars for the first part of the way. Calm, sunny. Igor rejoiced!

I stopped in Béziers, had a makeshift lunch, took a picture of the cathedral, rode back out and couple of hours later was in Marseillan Plage.

There were many people around and most of them were overly tanned, burnt even, so I didn't feel like an outcast with my burnt arms and legs. Although with my bicycle tan, I looked a bit different. And I did swim today, probably the last time in a while, since I will go inland tomorrow.


Today in numbers:

73 km - distance covered

3h58m - riding time

2 - times jumped into the sea

3 € - declined to pay for electricity at the camp site, but still managed to use it



Day 5 - Familiarity


Last night, my tent was baptized by a thunderstorm that lasted one hour or so. After a lazy evening, I had a lazy morning. I had time to go to the beach and I packed without rushing because I only needed to get to Montpellier, which is not far. The only stop on the way was in Sète. 

On the very top of a hill in Sète, there is a church which is a top attraction according to TripAdvisor. As usual, my curiosity got the best of me and since I had time, I decided to check it out. Did I mention it is on top of a hill? On the last stretch of the way up, I was pushing my bike because it was so steep I couldn't pedal anymore. As it sometimes happens, it wasn't much of an attraction after all, just a small nondescript building. Anyhow - checked, moved on. 

The ride itself was nice, most of it along beaches and a river bank, if only a bit too hot. 

Montpellier is somewhat familiar to me, I was here a few years back with Cirque du Soleil’s Alegria tour. I met a new relative, Valentin (my’s wife’s cousin) and his girlfriend Emy, who welcomed me into their apartment. It was a lovely evening with super nice people. And then there was a bed, the cherry on the cake.

Today in numbers:

65 km - distance covered 

500 m - pushing bike uphill while questioning if it’s worth the effort 

4h49m - riding time

169 bpm - maximum HR