Biking across Europe: It was all I hoped it would be
BIKING ACROSS EUROPE Eric, left, and Andy Armstrong traveled 1,600 miles on their bike trip across Europe last month. Andy said the trip was well worth the time and was everything he hoped it would be. submitted photo
By Andy Armstrong / special to The Star
July 21, 2002
Life is back to normal, if that is possible, after experiencing a great adventure.
Thirty-five days of having new experiences, meeting new people and seeing new places have given way to the security and comfort of home.
There is an excitement about the planning stage of a Paris-to-Budapest bicycle trip. There is a challenge in actually taking the trip. But there is a wonderful sense of satisfaction looking back and reflecting on a trip completed.
Biking through Europe was all, no, even more, than I had hoped it would be. The friendships that we made, the challenges we overcame, the beauty we saw and the bonding that I had with my grandson all made this trip special.
Looking back, many events are etched on my mind. Some were serendipitous moments; others that seemed insignificant or even negative at the time are now high points of the trip. I would like to share some of these with you.
The logistics of getting our bicycles to Europe and back posed, what Eric and I thought, would be a big hurdle.
Our bikes arrived at Paris in perfect condition, and in about two hours after our arrival we were peddling away from Charles De Gaulle Airport. Getting them back to Paris from Budapest caused a greater problem. But after about 17 hours on trains and another 24 hours waiting in train stations, we had them packed and on the plane for home.
Having peddled from the Atlantic to the Pacific in 2000 on dangerous highways and interstates, the bike paths and small country roads of Europe were a utopia.
From the small country roads weaving their way through rolling hills of Northern France, alive with colors of early summer, to the secluded paths along the castle covered Rhine River, that are reserved only for bikers and pedestrians, we were able to immerse ourselves in the beauty around us.
No matter whether the path was hard dirt, crushed rock, smooth or rough pavement, I felt safe and secure as we rolled along. Because of the large number of people who use bicycles as their main means of transportation and even more who ride recreationally, there is respect for cyclists, and, in may cases, bikes even have the right-of-way at intersections.
When selecting a route to follow across Europe, it made sense to follow the river valleys and avoid the steep mountain climbs. That proved to be one of the best moves we made.
Beautiful, well maintained bike paths took us within feet of many of the mighty rivers of Europe while providing panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
The rivers were also a good guide. Keeping the rivers on our left and using our compass was a sure way not to get lost. When we diverted from our river ride, we found it difficult to comprehend signs in languages we couldn't read and follow directions from people we couldn't understand.
Traveling down the Waas, the Maas, the Rhine, the Tauber, the Danube Canal and the Danube ( in Europe it is called the Donau) was one of our best moves.
Dottie and I have been to Europe on six different occasions, mostly to the areas where tourists flock. I had an opinion of what Europe was like from those trips.
This time Eric and I found ourselves riding through small country villages, vineyards, fields of corn, wheat, and deep forests. About every three or four kilometers, the next village appeared with its cobblestone streets and narrow, winding roads.
The smells from the barns attached to thatched roof houses let us know that these were working farms. Lace curtains blowing out open windows reinforced a fact that we knew: air conditioners were not the norm.