A Parisian Treasure Hunt
The first time I was in Paris, getting ready to cook for the Orient Express bicycle tour, I spent days scouring the city for a tea kettle - something harder to find than you might think. Eventually I found my way into an area stuffed with Middle Eastern shops, where a Turkish shopkeeper delved into his shelves and produced just what I needed. He was fascinated by the journey our cyclists were about to undertake; from Paris to Istanbul, his home city.
The journey east begins with a campsite I've always loved, just 30km from the Paris. It's wonderful how quickly rural France takes over from the rush of the city. A small road turns into an even smaller road and a short stretch of dirt leads us to the campsite. I unload my camp kitchen and listen to the farm animals as I prep dinner and wait for the cyclists to arrive. It's a peaceful time and a pleasure knowing how excited the cyclists are for their evening feast.
Into The East
Cycling from Paris to Istanbul involves passing through eight countries. I'd travelled Western Europe extensively as a competitive cyclist, but had never ventured further east than Germany before. Romania and Turkey have always presented the most adventure on the trip, as well as the largest differences in culture from the comfortable West.
Back To Basics
One of my favorite nights in Romania was in a small town not too far from Bucharest. It was my first time at this camp, and when I arrived it was more like a drinking establishment by the river with a grassy area out back where tents could be pitched. What it lacked in showers (i.e. none), it definitely made up for in authentic style. The owner was passed out on a bench but quickly shook himself awake after becoming aware of my presence. Turns out his daughter studies in Canada so he gave me a warm welcome. The cyclists began to arrive and quickly noticed the local children bathing with the cows in the river. One nervous cyclist asked where the showers were and I had to let him know the river was the best available option.
We weren’t the only campers, a few Roma families also occupied the camp and they weren’t shy. Music, crying babies and occasional yelling permeated the camp. One cyclist who wasn’t afraid of a party went to investigate. It wasn’t long before she had made friends with the Roma, enjoying several home-made alcoholic drinks with them. The ice broken, the Roma began to intermingle with our group, and while I stood over the grill, incredibly loud music engulfed the campsite. In the end the groups ate together and our group of western cyclists came away with a newfound appreciation for Roma culture. On a tour like this, you never know what the day will bring.