|Veni, Vidi, Venice!|
I've posted a handful of accounts written in Danish about my bike trip in the late spring/early summer 2012 which naturally has its limitations in terms of how many readers I'll appeal to abroad Denmark. Therefore I've made a decision to write an english summary so non-Danish speakers also have a chance to get a glimpse of my adventurous bike trip which started in Copenhagen and finished 1900 km later in Venice. I hope the summary below will inspire and entertain!
|The day before the adventure begins. Bags are packed on a day where everthing felt a bit chaotic|
I launced the trip from the city where I live, Copenhagen. From thereon I headed south to the Baltic shores of Germany, through the eastern part of Germany, Bavaria (Bayern), Austria and Italy via the mountains of Dolomites. From the outset the itinerary was sketchy to say at least, but I had a clear idea which towns and locations I desired to investigate during my trip. Between these points of interest I drew a virtual guideline on Google Maps but I didn't follow it strictly as I alternated it several times on my way down Europe.
Germany is a vast european country, especially when you measure it vertically north-south so I spent more than half of the time on the trip in this culturally and geologically versatile country. For this reason the following paragraphes are dedicated to Germany.
As I cycled my way down through Germany the landscape changed many times, from the forests and green fields of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) to the plains of Brandenburg and the lush mountains of Thuringia (Thüringen). In Bavaria the landscape is dominated by big rivers like Vils and Danube (Donau).
|Idyllic landscape in Thuringia.|
The differences are also a matter of religion as the catholic south (predominantly Bavaria) is more noticeable when it comes to show religious symbols in public (e.g. cruxifiks and figures of Virgin Mary next to roads) than the northern part of Germany which is dominated by (the more subtle) protestantism.
Differences are also remarkable when you compare the state of the roads in the "Old East" (former DDR) with the roads in "Western Germany". Due to lack of funds in the eastern regions of Germany the quality of the roads and streets in this part of the country vary to a degree where roads with smooth tarmac are followed abruptly by roads with paving stones or potholes which evidently is a pain to cycle on with a heavy loaded bike. I've had my fill of bad roads for a long time!
|Some roads in the "Old East" had smooth tarmac...|
|...other roads needed improvements...|
|...and there were roads like this which were utterly horrible for any cyclists to cycle on!|
In spite of the bad roads in the eastern part of the country Germany is in many aspects a Shangri-La for biketouring. As mentioned earlier the landscape varies a lot so you never get bored of dull and monotonous strecthes without anything to see, and germans are in general nice people which I experienced on first hand when a nice guy invited me to spend a night in his house in the Harz region. Germans also have a gentleman's approach in the traffic which means that it's generally very safe and comfortably being a cyclist in Germany.
Another attraction were the many awesome towns lined along my way down Germany. In that aspect Regensburg in Bavaria is outstanding for its great cathedral and the old roman bridge which cross the Danube river. Other towns I liked were Bayreuth, Kulmbach, Weimar, Burghausen and Rostock.
|An encounter with a stranger was sometimes an occasion to immortalize myself. Here posing on the old roman bridge in Regensburg|
But the main attraction is the many amazing cycle ways which criss-cross Germany. Some of them have their own separate track without interference from motorized traffic at all (for example in forests or along rivers), whereas other cycle ways follow less trafficked roads or roads in which a path beside the mainlane is dedicated to cyclists. Occasionally I joined one of these cycle tracks which are marked with signs in rich numbers so that you hardly need a map to navigate to when you start following the chosen track.
|Signpost marking the cycle way "Berlin-Copenhagen"|
Austria was a breathtaking experience since it was the first time in my life I was entering a region with mountains higher than 2000 meters above sea-level. As I crossed the German-Austrian border 60 km north of Salzburg I could spot the hazy mountains erecting in the horizon remembering me of what would come after two days of rest in Salzburg. It was like being in a dream moving on bike close to these tremendous mountains with summits capped in snow. Could this be real? I blinked my eyes deliberately to ensure that I was fully awake.
By the way: Cycling in a mountainous landscape isn't necessarily a hard job as long as you run in the valleys or along the rivers where there's virtually no steep ascents to climb. That was the case on my first day in the Austrian Alps - second day was a different story facing the steep curving roads of Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse... which I'll talk about later in this essay...
|Awesome! Mountains in Austria appear like a dream.|
In Italy I was welcomed by the mountains of Dolomites as soon as I crossed the border between Austria and Italy. Compared to the Eastern Alps The Dolomites are more ragged and dramatic which invited to amazing vistas at nearly every spot in this beautiful part of Italy.
As I cycled my way further southwards the landscape changed from the landscape dominated by mountains to the flat lands of The Po Plain. It was a peculiar shift of geograhy to experience as I left the last gasps of the Dolomites and entered the Po Plain which is flat as any pizza can be!
|The Dolomites. Ragged and dramatic.|
Except for one rainy day (seven hours of pouring rain!) and a harmless crash on my bike (!) I had a good impression of Italy. It's easy to fall in love with this beautiful country although not every inch of Italy is gorgeous (Some roads are loaded with heavy traffic with no shoulders for cyclists).
Among other things I had a positive impression of was a nice town called Vittorio Veneto which is located some 75 km north of Venice. I also liked the Villa Barbaro drawn by the famous architect Andrea Palladio which is located in a small town called Maser about 60 km north-west of Venice. And Venice... This magnificent town floating on water! I guess an introduction is superfluous...
|Vittorio Veneto is pittoresque as only Italian towns manage to be|
|The Rialto Bridge in Venice.|
Accommodation on the trip was not a big issue as I was bringing a tent with me. Mostly I camped at campsites but the number of campsites in certain areas of especially Germany and Italy are sparse so I did "stealth camping" as well which went well (no one took notice of my appearance). I also checked in at youth hostels and hotels. In Italy hotels were the only option in many situations which were a serious threat against my lowbudget ethic!
As a whole everthing went well on the trip but problems to some extent are hard to avoid on a bike trip and I'm no exception to that rule (The risk of troubles is increasing the longer your trip lasts of course). Apart from the bad roads in the former communist part of Germany, which you can categorize as a nuisance, I faced a more grave incident when I mindlessly left my Ortlieb handle bag unattended outside a sanitary estate at a German campsite for about half an hour!
It's unnecessary to state that I was shocked when I - back in the tent - realized that my handle bag wasn't present beside me when I needed to pick something from it - whether it was my passport, camera, credit card or the plenty of euros in hard cash... I panicked and rushed to rescue my precious belongings and... the handle bag stood more or less where I've left it 30 minutes before... and with all my valuables untouched by undesirable hands!
|Camping. It wasn't on this campsite I mindlessly left my handle bag unattended for half an hour|
I won't categorize the next episode as a 'problem'. 'Failure' is a more suitable term to describe my hard working and very slow way up to the pass "Hoctor" (2500 meters above sea-level) which is the endpoint of the famous Alp-road "Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse" in Austria. Before I set out for this crazy bike climb I had no idea how hard and exhausting this trip would be except for a vague conception that it would be a physical challenge. The road would bring me from the region of Salzburg in north to the region of Eastern Tirol near the border between Austria and Italy.
|Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse: Relentless and fearsome!|
With a heavy burden on my bike (approx. 25 kilo of luggage) the countless ascents which lasted for about 25 kilometers appeared a deal more merciless than if I climbed the same stretch on a light racing bicycle. This lighter alternative seemed more and more appealing as I met several guys on racing bicycles and no one - apparently - dared to climb this steep road on a heavy loaded touringbike - except a silly guy from Denmark (where the existence of mountains are none).
The pace of my climb was as following: 200 meters of pedaling, alert at first, then slower and slower until I "hit the wall" and stopped of exhaustion and fatigue while I respired furiously. When I reached the pass Hoctor after five hours of climbing I was relieved, wet of rain and slightly proud. You may ask me: Would you cycle the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse again? My answer is: No way! And definitely not on a loaded bike!
|The Hochtor pass. I'm not thouched by the moment only damn wet!|