We are Neil O’ Dowd and Céline Gally and we are aged 26 and 25 respectively. Before our trip we were living in Dublin, Ireland where we had both studied and completed some work experience in the field of engineering. We would regard ourselves as reasonably sporty with Neil being interested in climbing, running and hurling (an Irish sport somewhat similar to hockey or lacrosse) and Céline interested in walking, yoga and swimming. In saying that, our fitness improved a lot over the course of the trip and we took the first couple of weeks quite easy. Neil had completed a one month cycle tour from the Netherlands to Monaco in 2019 but not as part of a fundraiser.
Our connection to Monaco is through Céline who is Monaco born and bred. We have been trying to trace back how we arrived at the idea for the trip recently and we aren’t sure exactly how it came about to be honest. It was likely a combination of a strong desire to travel after a long series of Covid-19 lockdowns, Neil’s experience of having previously completed a cycle trip and a warm climate which led us to deciding to do a tour by bike, commencing in the South of Portugal.
The idea of ending our travels in Monaco had been in our heads for a while as it would allow us some time to regroup and relax afterwards, while we stayed with Céline’s parents. From here, we came up with a rough route based on some accounts of previous bicycle trips from a website called crazyguyonabike.com (this is where we learned about the Alentejo region of Portugal and decided to include this as a slight detour from the coast in the trip) and some places that we were already interested in visiting such as Porto, Lisbon, Santiago de Compostella and Bilbao.
Once we had chosen these waypoints we left the rest to a route planning website called "cycle.travel" which created an itinerary following quiet secondary roads, where possible, because as the slogan of the website exclaims, ”Life's too short to ride busy roads”!
After we had decided on doing a bicycle tour, we realised that this would be a good opportunity to raise awareness and funds for the Mothers of Africa charity. Before embarking on the trip, we created a fundraiser page to collect funds. We also set up an Instagram page for the trip as a way to keep our family and friends up-to-date whilst on our journey and for us to share information on Mothers of Africa and the link to the fundraiser for those who wished to make a donation. At the time of writing this, we have raised €3,050 for Mothers of Africa.
Céline’s mum Noeline has been volunteering for Mothers of Africa for a number of years so we know the Monaco team well and have been following the amazing work they do to support women and children in Africa for quite some time.
It is difficult to choose a single moment from the trip as we have been fortunate to meet so many kind and friendly people along the way. Our incredible host in the Alentejo region who showed us his giant amphorae of wine, which he made in the same way as the Romans did and the the man who offered us an armful of oranges from his garden at the top of a particularly difficult hill in Galicia are two occasions among many others. The landscapes we traversed varied from the sun-baked Algarve to the vibrant green of the Basque country and even the snowy peaks of the Pyrenees (albeit in the distance) of the Midi-Pyrénées. To paint the trip in its entirety like this would, however, be disingenuous as in equal measure there were sore knees, days of non-stop rain and on one occasion a malicious act by someone who destroyed both of our rear tires with a blade during the night. The true beauty of the trip is that of being on the road which is the simplification of daily life to two main concerns; that of sustenance and shelter, and the appreciation of the ordinary; a comfy bed, a warm shower or a delicious nourishing meal.
For those who would like to see more information on the trip, you can follow our page on Instagram @therockyroadtomonaco where you can find photos and accounts of our experiences. We will be adding some more posts soon to describe our time in Northern Spain and France and will provide some information for those that are interested in travelling by bike themselves.
We’re not quite sure what our next move will be yet. We would like to continue our travels after the summer to explore some parts of Asia. We’re not sure if this part will be by bike. For now we’re happy for our bikes to collect dust in the garage :)