Paul tells...


Little happiness


The rain that started yesterday afternoon has continued throughout the night, but when I zip up the tent that morning, I look straight into the sun! These are small moments of happiness that are hardly noticeable at home, but which we consciously experience on a cycling holiday. After all, it's not only that we can see much more of the surroundings - we're cycling through a National Park today - but it also means that the laundry that 'dried' outside all night, will be dry by the end of the day. And that's nice, because we only have two sets of clothes with us because of the limited luggage capacity. We are wearing one set and at the end of the day that one is usually soaked in sweat. So it's very nice when the other one is dry at the end of the day!

On our annual fortnightly cycling holiday there's always some room for luxury, like a chair, an extra set of clothes and a book, but on this trip we have so much necessary stuff for Africa with us, including a mosquito net, 300 malaria tablets in original packaging, a water filter and necessary spare parts, for our bike as for ourselves, that there's no room left for any kind of luxury. We experience the simplicity of life. As a result, I experience a 'little feeling of happiness' much sooner than at home. 

I am happy with the things I take for granted at home: a bench along the road, so we don't have to have lunch on the ground, the rain that stops exactly when we want to cook, or a campsite that is 'full' according to the sign at the reception and that, after a long day of cycling, still has a small place for us. A cool beer after a day of climbing in the scorching sun, certainly also belongs to this category. There are few moments when a draught beer tastes better! And for the Belgian readers: even Heineken is delicious, it really is!

Here are some small anecdotes from the trip so far that (eventually) gave a little feeling of happiness.



We are on a campsite in the middle of Slovenia. It is dinner time and suddenly Kathleen calls me with a voice that I am not used to. One that makes clear that I should no longer prolong the conversation with our German neighbours. When I turn around, I see that our burner with the grass around it is on fire. Because of the wind we have set up the burner near the tent, so the flames are less than 15 cm. from our tent. While Kathleen kicks the burner down a terrace, I try to kick out the flames with my shoe. That however has little effect. Our German neighbour loosens the nearest herring from the tent and pushes that corner of the tent away from the fire. Now it's a matter of 'controlled' burning out. Extinguishing with water has a counterproductive effect, which everyone knows and which I find out empirically.


After a few minutes everything is off. We're stuck with half-cooked rice and sliced vegetables. Because of Kathleen's heroic kick action something broke at the burner, so we have to look for a new part before we can use the burner again. Our neighbours had already offered us their chairs and table, because they are going to a restaurant tonight and now spontaneously offer their entire tent with a stove. Somewhat hesitant, but very grateful we make use of it and five minutes later we are in their tent with their stuff to cook our meals!


Feast meal!

A few days later we have a feast meal; after all, meat is on the menu! Not that we're huge carnivores, but we've been eating vegetarian for over a week now and with the efforts of our bodies, we notice that our need for meat increases every day.


We don't consciously eat vegetarian; it just wasn't possible to eat meat the last week. As every cyclist will recognize, we use the supermarkets on the road as our refrigerator. If we need anything, we drive to one and eat it immediately. We drive as much as possible over the countryside with its small villages. The result is that we only see a limited number of supermarkets along the way. The risk is too big to gamble on a supermarket next to our campsite, that's why we buy all our evening meals during the day and with the summer temperatures, we simply can't keep meat cool.


But that day the campsite is close to a town, so we can postpone our supermarket walk until just in front of our campsite. And on the campsite we can keep it cool in a bag of cold water in the shade. So next to meat we also have a delicious fresh yoghurt dessert tonight! And after a week without meat and yoghurt, that diner certainly feels like 'little happiness'!


My cap!

During one of my reflections on the bike, I had recently promoted my cap to my most precious piece of clothing. It protects my head from sunburn, kept me warm for the first few weeks when it was a bit cold, gives shade to my face and keeps my glasses dry when it rains. But the wind on one of the ferries between the Croatian islands doesn't mind. There is a very strong wind, bridges are closed that day for caravans and motorcyclists and so my cap flew over the deck in an unguarded moment with strong speed. I already saw him disappear into the Adriatic Sea, but the last railing of the boat stops him. The wind pushes it around the rod on both sides. It's waiting for which of the two sides will win, but just before it's decided, I can grab it!

There are many more examples of 'little happiness'. That's what I like about travelling by bike. The simplicity of life; it makes me happy to only have to worry about what's going on at that moment. 


A real bed!

And then we suddenly find ourselves in a real bed with a size of 180 by 200 centimetres and with clean sheets. A lot more comfortable than our little tent in which the width of our ‘bedroom’ and therefore our whole tent, doesn't count more than 1 meter. Tonight we sleep in the bed of Nino, a Croatian man who, just like us, is a member of 'Warmshowers', a worldwide network where cyclists give each other free shelter. In Rotterdam people regularly come to stay with me and now we make use of it. Nino has been a teacher for 20 years and lives in an Eastern European apartment just outside the centre of Zadar. And there we get to see the other side of Croatian life. The touristic part we have seen so far is beautiful, neat and pricey. The percentage of new Mercedes and BMW's on the coastal roads is a lot higher than in the Netherlands and nowadays you don't impress with a caravan anymore. At least 80% has been 'converted' to a motorhome. And for the price of the yachts and sailboats we see off the coast, I am sure you can also buy a very nice apartment.


Behind Nino's front door we see however also the other side of Croatian life. His three-room apartment is just 30 m2. On the wall is an indefinable beige wallpaper, where the paintings of the previous occupant are still visible by lighter spots. On the floor are a number of worn carpets over the tiles. In the living room there is room for a table with plastic tablecloth, four chairs and a bulging, wall-filling oak cupboard. The living room can be shielded from the kitchen by means of a pale curtain. I understand that you want to do that once in a while. Various moisture spots adorn the kitchen ceiling and the stucco lets go here and there. Several wall tiles have fallen off over time and not replaced. The kitchen cabinets hang diagonally. The heating in his entire apartment is limited to an electric heater in the bathroom and it wouldn't surprise us if there are still lead pipes in the building.


And at times like that, my feeling goes a bit further than 'little happiness'.  Then I am especially grateful that I grew up in such a rich country as the Netherlands.