Esmeralda Tijhoff

Some thoughts on History, Politics, and the Art of Living

Slow Travelling

Most people like traveling, but today’s backpackers prefer to travel by plain, train and public transport instead of hitchhiking. Flight-tickets are often cheaper than driving your own car and flying is off course quicker which saves you lots of time (and thus vacation days). Nowadays, travelling has shifted from The Journey to The Destination. But “our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.” This blog will show you the benefits of slow traveling.

bikeHow do you like to travel? I love traveling, and recently I have turned to my bike as a way of transport. Although I love my big pink C25 bus and have driven around Europe with it with lots and lots of pleasure, my bike gives me a new perspective on traveling. It’s more challenging, but also way more intimate since you feel closer to nature and need to depend more on the local people. Besides, the only way that is more carbon free is to walk, so environmental speaking, slow travelling is the way to go.

Nowadays, travelling has shifted from The Journey to The Destination.

slow travelling

On April the 25th 2013, I took off on my bike from Groningen, The Netherlands, to Budapest, Hungary. It was my first time to travel a long distance by bike, so I searched the web for information about the right bike to get, the equipment I would need and how likely you are to be killed on a road abroad. I ended up with a heavy old bike with the needed 21  gears, but no on/off road tires, and I manage to get the good waterproof Ortlieb bags for my front and back rack and a not so extremely ugly, yet safe helmet. And of course, no map but a compass.

I must say, the idea of working and sweating my ass of for weeks just to get to a destination I could get to in a day with my van, did not sound very attractive to me (or my friends). It is surely not the most efficient way. But the promise of adventure drove me to give it a shot. After all, I’m Dutch, so how hard could it be cycle 1500 kilometers? We were going to follow the rivers (mainly the Rhine and the Danube) which meant we were on flat ground. The Danube cycling route is also know as a route for beginners due to its flatness, so I was pretty sure it would be doable. Little did I know that we would end up doing 2011 kilometers, including some very steep hills and roads littered with rocks and mud causing me to fall flat on my face three times.

  On your bike, the world turns slower.

I soon found that on your bike, the world does turns slower. While in my van the landscape would literately slide next to me with 120 km/h, now, I saw the subtle changes in the vegetation as we drove ahead of the spring. I  heard the singing of the birds change over days, tasted how the local water shifted in composition of minerals, smelled the promise of the rain to come and felt the curving in the landscape that hardened my calf muscles.

Cycling for hours became a way of meditation. You have to concentrate on nothing but the road, which is an effective way to clear ones mind. For a busy, easily distracted and jumping mind as mine, the road became a way to find rest. Don’t get me wrong: I did not find any clear insights or the answers to the many questions and dilemmas in my life. Being on a bike does not rinse your soul, or offers you total enlightenment. It’s just a nice way to step out of society and its pressures, to reconnect with your body and to find a bonding with nature. In short, it helps you to be aware of yourself and your surroundings, an ability most people in modern societies have completely lost.

Camping with nature

wild campingMy travel companion decided we would be wild camping, since a pension or camp site everyday is impossible on a small budget if your cycling for more than a month. We followed the golden rules for camping in nature to reduce our impact to the minimum. The most important ones are: don’t camp in sensitive natural areas, do not damage crop or disturb livestock, take your garbage with you, dig a hole 30 meters from any water if you need a shit, camp out of sight of people and don’t set the place on fire. And of course, be nice to the people like dog walkers who do find you, and try to stay out of the hands of the police since it is still  illegal to pitch your tent in the wild in most countries. (See also http://www.mcofs.org.uk/assets/pdfs/wildcamping.pdf)

The benefits of camping compared to hotels are huge. We heard a deer and a wild boar in the middle of the night, standing next to our tent while calling out to other deer/boar. I saw an enormous rabbit of probably a meter long, staring right in my eyes before gracefully jumping away. Spending all day and night in the countryside, away from most people, gave me the chance to meet snakes, nutrias, buzzards, an eagle, lizards, dozens of different small singing birds including nightingales, a broad collection of wonderfully colored bugs I had never seen before, and of course the waterbirds and tons of mosquitoes.

 

On your bike, you come automatically into contact with the local people. If only because you need to refill your bottle with tap-water a couple of times a day. Knocking on a door to ask for water can result in some wonderful encounters. Not to mention the kindness people show you on the road. I am very grateful to Oliver Klier, who came up to us while we were cooking dinner at the Main in Frankfurt. He and his family made us part of their household for the night and morning. Oliver and his son Florian helped Chris repair his gear, and Daniela who has her physiotherapy practice (shiatsu and tuina) at home, treated my knee because my cartilage was rejecting the whole idea of hard labor. (http://www.warmshowers.org/users/blaubaer)

The church of Witzelsdorf

We are also in debt to the fire department and inhabitants of Witzelsdorf, a small but exceptionally warm community in Austria. Totally dehydrated we entered their village, were we soon find ourselves invited to join to watch the final between Chelsea and Benfica in the fire station, drink lots of beer, got stuffed on home made strudel and sausage, got breakfast cooked by ‘the chief’, a shower, and a tour around the local church. Thank you Renate for the lovely packages and cards in the morning!

Travelling by bike is becoming more and more a part of the infrastructure. Although you have to overcome a lot of deep mud poles, roads with holes that break your wheel, roads covered with stones (thank you Slovakia) and busy car-roads,  the EuroVelo routes are supposed to be the safest route for cyclist and depending on the country, they are pretty good signed and they are being improved as we speak. http://www.eurovelo.org/

Traveling by bike is exhausting, but certainly worth the effort. Explore the world by discovering the nature of yourself, your fellow humans and the animals and nature around you. Take a moment in our chaotic world, travel slow and enjoy the trip.

______________________

Blog about real long distance traveling:  http://bikepunks.blogspot.hu

Bike community for a shelter on the road: www.warmshowers.org

Information and forum for bikers: www.wereldfietser.nl (in Dutch)

Wild camping: www.mcofs.org.uk/assets/pdfs/wildcamping.pdf

Blog of people biking with their kids: http://petitssautsdepuces.blog.free.fr (in French)

The hostel we ended up in Budapest is definitely one of the best I have been to: http://www.backpackbudapest.hu

If you want to cycling through Europe and you would like to know with routes you need to take, use this route-planner: http://www.fietsvakantie.eu/

EuroVelo routes: http://www.eurovelo.org

 

 

 

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