Cloverdale’s Katie Fitzmaurice and Nicole Law are cycling though Europe this summer with the non-profit organization Global Agents, which aims to improve economic conditions in the Third World. This is the second column in a series.
From Day 1 in Amsterdam to Day 33 in Budapest, the variety of roads and bike paths we’ve encountered has hit some highs and lows.
In Amsterdam, the city well-known for bicycles where two-wheelers outnumber cars, the bike paths were amazing. The paths were well-marked with clear and simple signs, they took you anywhere and everywhere you wanted, and many were made of the red rubber found in track ovals – which created very little rolling resistance and a very smooth surface for riding.
Amsterdam – in fact all of the Netherlands, actually – was by far the most bike-friendly place. Biking was so common in Amsterdam that we witnessed locals chatting on their cellphones, reading a book, text-messaging, carrying umbrellas and various combinations of those activities – all while pedaling. I was only able to accomplish holding an umbrella while riding.
German bike paths were interesting. Apparently German kids like to turn the signs so the arrows point in the wrong direction or put stickers over the arrows, making the signs useless.
On the first day of riding to Vreden, one of the riding pods had issues with which direction to ride and in the end followed the direction that made the most sense, which was to head east. Sometimes you just have to hope going in the general direction of east will get you where you want to be. Most of the time it worked out.
There is nothing worse than riding 10 kilometres in the wrong direction and having to turn around, especially when you have to fight the head wind.
When riding up to the German-Czech Republic border, we followed a bike path that had designs painted onto the cement. The patterns changed every 50 feet and kept me entertained.
The path was very crowded with cyclists and rollerbladers. Immediately upon entering this new country, we had to stop for ice cream, one of our many mandatory stops of the day which also included bathroom, coffee, candy, water, and photo breaks, and any other excuse we saw fit to stop for a little rest.
The ride into Prague – locally called Praha – was a slightly different story.
We were advised by riders from previous years to completely avoid the bike paths in and out of Praha, as they added on a ridiculous amount of kilometres and consisted of narrow routes along the river.
Apparently in previous years, two riders had fallen into the river, bicycle, panniers and all. I am assuming these were mountain bike trails not designed for riders carrying their necessities on their back rack. No one wanted to do extra kilometres or fall into the river; we just wanted to explore the city, so we were forced to the roads.
In Austria, there was a definite change in the type of pavement, a much-needed improvement in smoothness. Our first ride day into the city of Linz was two-pronged.
The first three-quarters of the ride felt like it was all uphill while the last 14 kms into Linz was downhill. That day only seven riders set off in the morning as the other nine were still battling the stomach flu that rampaged through the group the evening before.
Our path into St. Poelten turned out to be 170 kms long, but it definitely did not feel that way. About 140 kms of that ride was along the Danube River on a path that was well-shaded, flat, and had stunning views all day. Also there was a small branching river which we waded into for a late afternoon swim to cool off.
Our short journey through Slovakia was on a gravel path built up on a dyke separated from the river with a row of trees. The scenery was very dull and I am pretty sure at a few points along the ride I dozed off for a few microseconds while pedalling. However, the capital city of Bratislava was stunningly beautiful. The views overlooking the city and the river from the castle were breathtaking.
In Hungry, the bike path was initially described as having off-roading parts. We soon found out this meant a really bumpy gravel path that was only as wide as a tire track. We didn’t last long on these paths before getting back on the paved roads. Once we hit Budapest we avoided bike paths completely until the second half of the tour started and the remaining 10 riders took the EuroVelo bike path which followed the river and would take them onto another month of new experiences and new countries.
I, on the other hand, have returned home, reminiscing about my times in Europe and wishing I was still there. It was a sad farewell to the 10 remaining riders and the five others who are now off on their own, but I hope them all the best.