This is my first cycling tour ever.
This way of travelling is certainly the best possible way to discover Europe.
I have to keep with Europe as my experience is not ( yet) going further. And I believe there are a few good reasons why Europe is so good for it, or why cycling is so good for Europe.
You get a lot of countries and thanks to the Schengen ( big fan of it) you just get in and out and in again.
Cultural, historical and natural spots (oh yes, luckily there are a lot left) are dotted all over this little continent. It’s hard to find a three day ride without some interesting reasons to stop. Even when they tell you it’s all the same all te way, as I heard about Finland or Poland, I will deny it. If you find a boring part I think you’re not looking the right way.
There are some nice multi-country-bicycle routes, but I can’t comment on that, because mostly I start such a route but soon I change my route following some local advise or to go for some off route activity.
More even then the general advantages, there is part that is the most rewarding on a bicycle. It is crossing passes. I crossed 3 passes so far. It were not the highest or the most famous passes, but still the experience is vey impressive.
Smell the pass, Feel the pass, Enjoy the pass
To begin with, a pass is going uphill first and then downhill, sounds very simple, but this ‘effort followed by reward’ is only so satisfying on a bicycle. Not a single other means of transport comes so close. Oh yeah, perhaps skitouring or paragliding, but that will be an other chapter.
The three I’ve cycled:
1. Abisko-Narvik ( Sweden to Norway)
2. Predil pass ( Italy-Slovenia)
3. Cissa pass ( Italy)
Then comes the second impression. A pass is mostly dividing two weather systems, and has often its own microclimate. In Sweden to Norway, it were only 2 small hills halfway the pass that made the difference between snow and cold wind with a chill temperature of around freezing to an nice green spring season on the Atlantic side.
The cissa pass was also impressive. Where the whole climb was in clouds and fog, I did only 34km the first day and a silly 22 km the second. After two days I was almost at the top. When I descended into the valley on the other side the sky cleared, suddenly I was aware of a warm wind and was greeted by a beautiful Mediterranean afternoon.
When you’re on your bike, you feel those subtle changes, wind changing direction, altering temperature and humidity of the wind.
Next to that feel are the smells, the changes in fragrances of nature, are immediate and very clear. And that is wonderful! Mostly.
I could tell you about the views on those passes, but let’s be honest. When climbing uphill, often you’re biting your teeth in your handlebar, and downhill you’re concentrating on the holes in the road and more exactly the effort to avoid them. But yes of cours you enjoy the beautiful landscape!
In general, a quick photo stop is easy by bike, or if you want to ask some advice you just stop almost instantly.
And what about the weather?
There is the saying: There is no bad weather, only bad clothing. And I intend to agree completely with that. You can dress for cold easily. All be it that uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill is a bit more difficult to manage. And when it comes to rain, only on day three it starts to annoy me.
When it becomes harder to separate dry from wet, the misery begins. And then I’m speaking of continuously raining.
When it rains a few showers a day, they are only annoying the moment you have to pack everything in the morning and when you want to set up in the evening.
If it rains the whole night, and it stops raining in the morning – good gear dries quickly – you can pack it dry. The same when it rains when you are cycling. If you have a few showers along the ride, but the last half hour you are spared the rain, again, with good clothing, it will be dry and you can get everything up en keep all dry.
The heat might actually be the biggest problem, which you solve partly by stopping for ice cream a lot, A LOT!
You see every town
What stouched me mostly in Italy, but it was true for every country, by public transport and by car you get from A to B via the highway. On a bike, with a good navigation, you see almost every town and cross often the centre of the city. Narrow streets, car free quarters, you simply cycle through. How lovely is that!
On that there is a little remark, there are more and more rail trails transformed to long distance bicycle trails. Which gives you the advantage of avoiding steep climbs or descends, because trains normally stay within 2%, if I’m informed correctly. Also mostly you cross nature and you are surrounded by silence. On these trails you mostly go alongside the town, so for lunch or shopping, you need more planning.