In this episode of Bike Tour Adventures, I had a chance to talk with Nima Khalkhali, an Iranian-Canadian that quit his job, rented out his apartment in Vancouver and took off on a 5 month tour of Europe and Northern Africa. Initially, Nima intended to pack up his bike with a bikepacking setup, but then changed to a traditional touring setup and took his touring bike instead of the gravel bike. With an original plan of cycling up to North Cape, Norway and then make his way down and across to Iran, Nima flew into Oslo and started his upward journey.
The biggest piece of advice that Nima could give regarding touring in Norway was that dumpsters are extremely clean, Sundays are the best day to go dumpster diving, as most shops are closed, it’s not viewed as socially unacceptable, and that dumpsters in smaller towns are rarely locked. As food is extremely expensive in Norway, Nima was able to cut his food expenditure nearly to $0 after discovering the intricacies of dumpster-diving through friends and practice. That, coupled with lots of wild camping made for a relatively inexpensive time in Norway.
It’s important to remember that Norway has a relatively small population, so the number of roads heading north in the country and few, which means there can be a lot of traffic. In an effort to get away from the major roads, Nima sat down and plotted a route that would take him north through many of the back-roads and using the occasional ferry. Of course this meant a lot more climbing for him, but also allowed for him to fully experience the Norwegian people. When Nima reached Honningsvåg, he assumed it would be a quick finish to cycle the last 34km to Nordkapp, but didn’t realize that there would be nearly 700m of elevation in this last little bit of distance. After reaching North Cape, he took a ferry from Honningsvåg to Tromsø, where he would catch a flight to Gdansk, Poland.
As cycling goes, plans often change and having a static route and being inflexible can take away from the adventure. Such was the case with the flight to Gdansk. When on the way up to Nordkapp, Nima met a girl at a campsite that just happened to tell him about a cheap flight from Tromsø to Gdansk. Nima decided to book it as a means of saving some time rather than having to cycle all the way back south. He had also heard that roads in the 3 Baltic States can be bad and decided to give it a pass.
Unbeknownst to many people, Gdansk is a Polish city that was under German control prior to WWII, and thus escaped much of the damage inflicted on Polish towns during the occupation. It still has that medieval feel about it and walking through the old part of town is like stepping back in time.
After leaving Gdansk, Nima started cycling towards Krakow, opting to skip Warsaw. After surviving an unlucky encounter with an aggressive driver and being thrown off his bike, Nima also decided it was time to start wearing a helmet, realizing he is no longer in Norway, where people show much more caution and control when passing cyclists on the road. After a stop in Krakow and a visit to Auschwitz, it was time to change countries. Crossing the Tatra Mountains into Slovakia was a highlight of the region after having cycled on flat roads through Poland for so long. Winding his way down through Eastern Europe and into the Balkans, Nima eventually made his way all the way down to Greece. When talking about the costs of travel, Nima said that surprisingly, the coastal region of Croatia was just as expensive, if not more, than Greece and Italy. However, the other countries in the region were very affordable and the people were even more amazing.
Crossing into Albania was perhaps the most noticeable contrast, as the prices of pruducts dropped significantly and the people became even more giving and joyful at the sight of a cyclist going by. When he entered Greece, Nima had to take some time off the bike in order to get some repairs done. This gave him a few days to explore Corfu before cycling south and then making a last minute decision to go to Athens to visit a cousin that was living in a refugee camp. After two weeks in Greece, it was time to head for Italy, as his Schengen visa was soon going to expire.
Arriving in the south of Italy, Nima needed to make a push towards Palermo in Sicily, so he could catch a boat to Tunisia. Being a fan of espresso coffee, Nima raves about how good it actually is in Italy and that it’s such a common drink that it is also inexpensive, costing bout 50 euro cents when away from the tourist sites. Nima says that the south of Italy is one of the most amazing places for eating, and that everyday was an adventure. After missing his boat, he had a few extra days, and took the time to visit famous sites like Mt. Etna.
To catch his whole story, listen to the podcast episode.
Cheers. Keep on pedalling.
Follow Nima on his adventures at:
~ 01 min Intro to Episode 27 with Nima Khalkhali
~ 07 min Nima’s previous biking and hiking experiences
~ 9m 30s What bike Nima used for this tour, how things changed along the way, less is more
~ 13 min Three must have things in Nima’s bags
~ 15 min Discussing how plans change, cycling in Norway in the summer, keeping costs down in Norway
~ 24 min Norwegian people and roads, challenges of cycling in Norway
~ 33 min Cycling in Poland, getting hit by a car, the Tatra Mountains
~ 49 min The Balkans, cost comparisons
~ 57 min Greece, refugee camps
~ 60 min Cycling southern Italy to Palermo and missing the ferry to Tunis