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In 2019 I started my incredible journey through Europe with my bicycle and my dog Zuri. What experiences I gained and what richness the journey brought me is beyond words. It was the most beautiful and intense journey of my life so far and I went around the world with my backpack at the age of 20, but this was nothing in comparison.
We cycled almost 6800 km through 12 countries. We started in April from Germany, then went to Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Czech Republic and back to Germany in September 2019.
Why I travelled by bicycle
For me it was important to find a travel opportunity that is sustainable and where my dog Zuri can also be active. I don’t want to get on a plane indiscriminately in order to fly on holiday with it. I love nature and adventure and everything inside me bubbles over when I stand in front of a beautiful waterfall or on top of a mountain. I want to experience the world but without destroying it. There is unbelievably beautiful nature around us to discover. We don’t need to go far.
This journey was also a gift to Zuri
The trip was also meant to be a gift to Zuri, because she has spent most of her lifetime under my desk, while I was finishing my PhD in environmental psychology, giving me emotional support. She was diagnosed with a tumour in her head when she was 6 months old and the vet at the time said that she only had about 1 year to live. Back then I was shocked because only 3 months before I had lost my mother due to cancer.
Now Zuri is 5 years old and she is still as lively as ever. The vet has no explanation for this. She contradicts any tumour theory. She is a dog that is full of energy, happiness and kind to everyone she meets. If I had to describe her with one simple phrase it would be pure joy of living. She shows me every day that life is full of joy, but you don’t know when it will end and I should spend it with something that fulfils me.
The Ebike lets me cycle up every mountain
Before my trip I only rode my bike very occasionally and I would describe myself as not very sporty, so it was a blessing for me that there are now e-bikes and I am able to ride towards every mountain with joy. I am especially attracted to mountain landscapes. Even with all the luggage and a dog trailer it was no problem at all to cross the Alps twice in one day with an altitude of 2000m in Switzerland. We were passing by 7m high snow mountains left and right of the road. The E-bike brought back the joy of riding to me.
The bike itself has a few more unbeatable advantages, which were even further confirmed to me on the trip. It wasn’t so clear to me at the beginning, but the bike really has the ideal speed to really look around, you can just stop wherever you want to, you ride smaller and often much more beautiful paths, you feel the wind and the sun on your skin. You really smell, hear, see and feel the world. There is no windshield that shields you from the world outside and everything you experience is emotionally very different and much more deeply anchored. You really are in the world!
And people everywhere welcome you with open arms. Innumerable times I have been actively invited by people to stay overnight in their house or just to have coffee, ice cream or something else to eat. Especially friendly were people in Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia and Montenegro but I had really great experiences in all countries of the trip. My dog Zuri was a clear advantage. I am a rather introverted and shy person but Zuri is a magnet for people and has created new contact opportunities for me almost daily. She makes it easy for people to approach me.
How dog-friendly are the countries?
Italy in particular was great for Zuri. The Italians love dogs and there is real dog ice cream everywhere and I tell you Zuri loved it! It was actually only somewhat more complicated in Muslim regions, as dogs are often not allowed in restaurants. I remember a situation in Bosnia where there were thunderstorms, hail and I thought the world would end. It was dark and Zuri and I were sitting outside a restaurant together because Zuri was not allowed in. Zuri was terrified of the loud thunderclaps and I just hoped that everything would be over soon.
We continued cycling at night in the thunderstorm to find a place to stay for the night and we had to avoid rocks on the roads and oncoming cars that were on our side of the road. That was really adventurous. And also here I met a Bosnian at night at a gas station who was also on his bike and who accompanied me to a camping site. We became friends and later I visited him at his home in Serbia. The Croats were also somewhat reserved towards dogs.
Whereas in Montenegro Zuri got really good meat and Pizza for free in 3 restaurants where we stopped for dinner simply because she looked hungry.
Good food on the road as a vegetarian was not always easy
For myself as a vegetarian it was a bit harder to find good food in Eastern Europe. The weirdest food experience I had was in Slovakia, where there was actually a section with vegetarian food in the menu. There were 3 dishes to choose from. I took the pasta in cheese sauce. Unfortunately there were no vegetables. But what I got were noodles with small bacon cubes. Since nobody there could speak English or German I sorted out the bacon as good as possible and Zuri had a good evening snack. In terms of food, Italy was indeed the best country, but I was also positively surprised by Budapest and the incredible variety of vegan restaurants.
Travelling alone as a woman, isn’t that dangerous?
I have often been asked why I am making this trip alone as a woman. Many marvelled at my courage or could not understand why one makes such a journey alone. I have to say that on the one hand I always felt very safe and never alone because of Zuri and I met so many wonderful and helpful people that I often felt more at home on the road than in my actual home in Germany.
There have been some very adventurous situations in which, for example, something broke on my bike, I only managed to cycle up a mountain with my last ounce of strength or I didn’t know where I could sleep at night. The great thing was that ALWAYS someone came to help me. This trip gave me trust in the world. It showed me that no matter where I am, people are there and support me when I need help. I knew I could rely on the world.
In Slovenia, for example, an 88-year-old woman opened her house for me for the night without having slept there herself. Naive enough, I didn’t take any spare tubes with me on the trip. But in Italy a German couple approached me and told me that they had these two spare tubes with them and that I would need them more urgently than they did. And these were indeed the two tubes I needed on my two punctures in Bosnia and Serbia.
Also a shepherdess, who is over 70 years old, invited me to her home in the national park in Montenegro and asked me if the people in the cars that stood next to me were good tourists. As a cyclist you are perceived very positively, you are nothing alien to the system but immediately a friend. I wish that more people would have the courage to get involved in the world and to travel and experience it in a sustainable and connected way. Taking a dog with you is the ultimate experience, because you are never alone, you feel much safer and the dog gives you additional contact possibilities.
The journey showed me how to trust in the world
Many great encounters and experiences of this bike trip will remain in my memory for a long time. I also talked to an older lady in Switzerland of about 75 years and she said she saw countless countries and made many cruises and in the end nothing remained of it. I asked her why. She said that it was too much – to look at one sight after another and to consume without really diving in. I think she was right.
My first trips were also influenced by the typical bucket-list ticking off behaviour but my travel style has changed in the meantime. What remains is not to have seen certain buildings or places, but to have unplanned encounters with people, to immerse oneself in the lives of others, and into nature, to be open and to take your time with what is happening. I found out that travelling by bike and with a dog is really suitable for this.
We tend to overlook that there is so much beauty around us that we don’t need to travel far or fast. Our earth has so much beauty to offer in countless places and within so many people. Let’s all do our part to preserve this beauty. I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and to try something new. Life can be full of joy and adventures if you’ll allow it. Go out and inspire people! Just do it! You don’t have to spend it in a hamster wheel or ratrace.
Don’t plan too much and get involved in the moment
Often you can plan so much, just to be sure and because of all the planning you don’t live in the moment anymore. I haven’t made any major preparations for this trip. I didn’t know which countries I would cycle through in advance and I often didn’t know where I would sleep in the evening. At the beginning of the trip it really stressed me out. But after a while I knew that I would always find a place to sleep. I had a tent with me and if nothing came up, I slept on a quiet meadow or I asked if I can sleep in a garden of a local family when it got dark.
Just have faith in yourself and be open for the moment and for what comes up. There are so many of us who have certain dreams or passions that we want to pursue, but are struggling within ourselves, are not sure or are second-guessing and having doubts about it. Follow your inner voice. Find your passion and be courageous to follow it.
Scotland 2020, here we come
I’m just about to leave for my next bike ride to Scotland with Zuri. I’m very excited about the rough and wild nature that will await me there and also whether Corona will have an impact on people’s behaviour towards me and Zuri. I am not planning anything in advance this time either. But this time I have got two inner tubes for my bike and one for the dog trailer and I also got a second powerbank. Electricity was often the limiting factor on my last trip and so I spent a few hours in cafes almost every morning to recharge my bike and cell phone battery. If you have any further questions don’t hesitate to write me.
You can follow my journey on Instagram at @earth.thebeauty, Facebook at @earththebeauty or later on YouTube at www.youtube.com/c/irisjoschko. On all these channels you can also find pictures, stories and videos of our European tour.
More pictures of our journey are also available on my website.