As seen on MSNBC!

My Long Bike Journey Through Europe

By Todd Hart

Last summer I went on a long bike journey. I started in Baku, Azerbaijan, on the Caspian Sea; crossed Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey; and then continued up through Eastern Europe to Helsinki Finland. It was a little over 4,000 miles and took about 3 1/2 months. I rode as far as Bulgaria with a guy from Azerbaijan, who in the course of the trip became a good friend. From there, I headed north and he headed through Europe to Morocco and is now riding down through Africa, from Egypt to South Africa. I am taking that trip vicariously from his posts. He is now in Tanzania.

The vast majority of the time I camped in farm fields and in the woods, staying at hostels or hotels only in the bigger cities. I did things I had never done before, including washing my laundry in an irrigation ditch and in a bucket at a public water spigot on a city street. I saw amazingly beautiful land, and towns and cities along the way.

The best part of the trip though was the people I met along the way. I have found that traveling by bike breaks down barriers with people better than any other form of transportation. People were very generous, often offering food and drink. I must have been offered tea half a dozen times a day while crossing Turkey and Azerbaijan. In Serbia, a farmer gave me a whole bottle of his homemade Vodka. In Turkey, due to the language barrier, a store owner was not able to wish me well on my trip in words, so he gave me flowers.

I had a couple in Romania offer to let me stay in their home for the night. They fed me dinner and breakfast. She even got up that morning and made fresh bread on an outside wood heated hearth. I was in bad need of cleaning up. They did not have running water, but drew water from a well and heated it on a stove for me.

One day while passing a school in small town in Turkey, before I knew it, I was surrounded by school kids, trying to show off their English that they were learning, shouting every English phrase they could think of. Their English teacher came out and invited me into the school. He let the kids ask questions and he translated my answers to them. I was also introduced to many of the teachers. And, of course I was offered tea and ice cream. That is my favorite memory of the whole trip.