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  1. #1
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    Northern Europe trip results

    I thought I'd post some random thoughts on our 2 month trip to Denmark and Germany (mostly) before I forget.

    This was our first extended trip and first time to Europe. We got one-way tickets and had no plan since we knew our plan would go to hell once we got there. We talked to people on the way to find out what's cool to see and changed our route whenever we felt like it since we had no set route or schedule. I didn't even know where we'd fly out so we had no return tickets. In retrospect, I would have flown into a more central European location, perhaps Germany, then taken trains to where we wanted to actually start the trip (Copenhagen) since the trains are so easy. And at the end of our trip just taken another train back to the city and jumped on the plane. Easy peasy. That would have allowed me to save some money with a round-trip ticket, but the flexibility we had was really really nice. I got a return ticket 3 weeks before we left and it was pretty expensive, but oh well. Lesson learned.

    I took my old Softride Traveler with RSX brifters (posted about them previously, being "stuck" and not shifting after some time in storage). The bike performed excellently, no problems at all. It was the comfiest ride you can imagine which turned out to be REALLY freakin nice over all the cobblestones we wound up on.

    My son had a brand new Novara Randonee which also was perfect, but wound up being stolen in London, sigh. We took a thick cable lock as a compromise between a set of heavy u-locks and nothing, and I think it was enough deterrant everywhere except a city known for massive bike theft. The cable was cut and the Radonee was gone, but they didn't jack my Softride for some reason. Probably way too unique and rare of a bike to sell on craigslist, I'm guessing. They don't sell Novara's in the UK as far as I know so it might be hard to sell online without us spotting it, that's for sure. It was such an ideal bike that we're going to just go buy another one to replace it since it's perfect for a city bike too.

    We took a gas stove to cook with while camping but never used it. Camping in Europe was something I knew nothing about and it was very different from camping in the USA. We just never bothered to cook our own food when every single campsite had either a restaraunt right in the camp or food we could ride to within a few minutes. So I wouldn't recommend even bringing a stove. Carry some emergency bars if you ever get stuck in a camp with no access to food, if you're worried about that. We brought a bunch of powerbars and they were great for those occasional long days with nowhere to stop for lunch.

    The showercap I took from our first hotel was perfect for keeping our leather Brooks saddles dry. Cheap, light, and free. Brooks saddles rock, I'm glad I bought one for this trip. Within a few weeks of riding it was finally broken in (and my butt as well) and it was real comfy. I still needed a good supply of butt cream to keep the blisters away but after 3-4 weeks of hard riding my butt was iron and didn't have any blister problems after that.

    I bought two Mountain Hardware Ghisallo tents and those turned out to be excellent if you don't mind minimal space for sleeping - it's a tight squeeze but I didn't care, I'd lay down and zonk right out after a hard day's riding. Being able to put the bike IN the tent was a perfect solution to theft and rain and the tents were high quality and held up great in heavy rain too.

    We flew our bikes over by simply bagging them in a clear mattress bag that I picked up at a local mattress store. In retrospect that was something I won't do again. Iceland air banged the bikes up in transit. Both our back wheels where badly out of true (and mine was brand spankin' new 36 spoke Velocity deep dish I got just before I left, ugh) and one of the bikes had badly torn handlebar tape and a brifter was smooshed around sideways on the handlebar, which was easy to fix. No permanent damage, thank goodness. My Softride came through ok other than the rear wheel. We field-trued the wheels at the airport and they were fine the rest of the trip. On the return trip I boxed my bike at the airport which was an enormous pain in the butt but it survived just fine We also flew with the bike free on Continetnal out of Heathrow London, which baffled me. I thought it was $100 charge, but we had no other bags to check, I think they just made a mistake but I didn't complain

    While we were in Amsterdam we decided to ship all our stuff home instead of taking it on the plane. That turned out to be outrageously expensive, since apparently they decided to close ALL the government post offices since they were not making money, and we had to find a local store that would ship them back. It was definitely more expensive to ship 4 big boxes home than to take them on the plane. One box out of 4 shipped has arrived, I sure hope the other 3 show up today. But on the other hand it was an enormous convenience to not have all those bags at the airport, and getting the bike to Heathrow in London on the tube was a near disaster. Only some trains allow you to take bikes and I was badly misinformed by one of the tube station managers about that, so be careful trying to get to Heathrow.

    Most of the big cities we visited were so easy to navigate by bicycle, but we mostly just used public transport since it was uniformly excellent in Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, and London. Riding a bike in London is NOT something I'd recommend especially with the driving on the left thing. We did it and it wasn't too bad really, but jeez it was hair-raising at times since everyone is always in a huge hurry and cars don't mind squeezing *right* up to you in traffic. Bike lanes? haha, no, nothing like Copenhagen or Amsterdam, for example, where it's completely safe and easy to ride in the busiest parts of the city during rush hour.

    We took a ferry down a river on the way to Amsterdam from Germany and that was a really fun thing to do. Everyone piles the bikes on the boat and we spent a beautiful leisurely day crusing down the river then continued on bike at our destination port. Search around and you can find info on bike+ferry options, highly recommended as a great break in the daily routine.

    Our route: Flew into Copenhagen, rode down through the southern islands in Denmark all the way to Germany (Schleswig) then took trains to Hamburg then south to Munich to hang out. Taking the bikes on the German trains was a breeze once you got the hang of it. Great way to hop around if you want to skip a hilly section or whatnot. Then we took a final train to lake Constance real near the start of the Rhine, then we followed the Rhine trails all the way down almost to the end (we detoured Rotterdamn to head to Amsterdamn instead). What a GREAT ride, flat as a pancake, the river is just gorgeous, and lots of cool places and castles to see all along the way. And we spent some time on the Swiss and French sides of the river too which was different.

    The signage on the Rhine route was generally ok, definitely NOT what I'd call good, we got off-track quite a few times due to bad/missing signage and there were some downright very frustrating times trying to get back on the trail. I would NEVER do this trip without google maps + GPS on my mobile phone, that was a life saver MULTIPLE times a day, at least on the Rhine. It was also essential for finding a place to sleep every night (with reviews to find good ones!) and places to eat. I bought a month-by-month data plan from AT&T that works just about anywhere before I left and it was worth every freakin' penny. In London it was also great for finding bus stops, we didn't need any kind of map in any of the big cities thanks to google maps. Finding routes to various places on the streets in Amsterdam was about impossible without google maps. Those canals make navigation a bit crazy!

    Wind. We had headwinds - STRONG headwinds - almost every day heading west in Denmark. To the point where you are hunkered down as far as you can in the drops and pedaling hard as hell at 18 km/hr and just wishing it would let up. But it kept you nice and cool on the extremely hot days with no tree shade to ride in, which was good We started to hate the sight of those windmills. It meant wind and lots of it. This was one of the reasons we took a train south into Germany, we had headwinds heading south when we got into Germany and by then we were just sick of it! Along the Rhine we generally had either tailwinds or no wind, maybe one day of strong headwinds.

    Our panniers were Ortliebs and it seemed like everyone else in Europe had the same ones. They were perfect. HIghly recommended - stick with the best.

    I bought my son expensive Sidi Dominator shoes and they were excellent. I wore my old Dominators and they just about fell apart on this trip from old age but they held together and were very comfy. Don't skimp on footwear!!

    If you are going on tour I HIGHLY recommend you WALK LIKE CRAZY at home to get your walking muscles in shape. I didn't walk much and wound up with a very sore and swollen ankle from all the extensive walking we did in some of the big cities early in the trip. Luckily it didn't stop me from pedaling really, but since I never could give my ankle any rest, it took weeks to heal. Medical issues can become real killers on a long trip so take care of yourself and don't ignore new pains. Lesson learned.

    As mentioned before, we had one bike stolen. The small cities were generally really safe so we weren't obsessive about locking the bikes with every trip into a store, but we had that cable lock to discourage opportunistic theft for longer periods and that worked well. The big cities are a different matter. You either need to lock your bike in a secured public storage area, or ideally in the hostel/hotel's secure lot. Or ask them if you take it into your room. Sometimes they don'd care. The bike was stolen because the small hotel we were in in London had zero parking and we had to lock them to a railing out front across the hotel street. It was literally stolen right from outside our hotel window in the middle of the night. By then the riding portion of our trip was over so it didn't ruin the vacation at least. Not sure if our USAA insurance covers bikes stolen overseas, I need to check into that.

    I think what I'd like to do next is possibly Spain, France and head south into Italy for our next trip. Not sure what the roads are like in France and the language issue will certainly be a pain. English was no problem in Denmark, Germany, and Netherlands, and it was actually really hard to understand people in London with that accent! But while we were in the French sections of the Rhine valley, we had quite a few cases where we had a real hard time communicating since the French apparently don't learn English like their more eastern neighbors do, I guess.

    When you visit a restaraunt in a big city, ask them if they have English menus. If they do, jackpot, what you do next is use it like a rosetta stone to decipher the local language menu and learn the local language names of all the dishes so that you know what things are (fish, pork, potatoes, bread etc. etc.) next time you wind up somewhere with no english menus, like at every small town place we stopped. Generally only the big cities with heavy english tourists have english menus, so learn some new words while you can!

    Two months was a really good length of time I think. Plenty of time so you can just relax and not rush anywhere and take rather large side trips anywhere you want if the mood strikes. I was sure ready to come home after two months though!! I wouldn't go for less than a month, a few weeks is just not enough time for a relaxing trip, I think.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Spudd's Avatar
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    Sounds like a fantastic trip! Sorry to hear about the bike theft, but at least it happened at the best possible time. Good tip about the menus. I'm going on vacation in Europe soon so will plan to make use of that especially in Greece!

  3. #3
    Godfather of Soul SBRDude's Avatar
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    Just wrote a long post and lost it. GRRR!

    Here's the short version.

    Glad you had a great trip with your son! I'm planning on riding from Amsterdam to Rome next summer, and will follow the Rhine from near Arnhem most of the way to Constance, but ultimately to Zurich and over the Alps into Italy. Still trying to decide if I want to go through Basel or take a shortcut through the Stuttgart area. I have been to Strasbourg and Baden-Baden, so I know that area is great.

    Will be doing a light tour and staying in hotels and probably won't make reservations, except perhaps the day of/before arrival. Not sure what to expect when I show up with a bike? Usually okay to put it in the room, do most hotels have provisions for storage, etc.?

    What kind of roads and / or paths did you use along the Rhine? Did you stay very close to the river or just keep it within a few miles away.

  4. #4
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    Over the alps with a fully loaded bike? Eeek I hope you're in fantastic shape. Even by the end of a 2 month trip I would avoid the mountains with all that weight like the plague. But hey that's just me, if you've done full-on Alps category mountains before and you want to do it again, you rock Me, I'd take the train over the mountains. Or UP the mountains and ride down, though you better have freaking good brakes to keep your bike under control down a steep hill. I wouldn't trust my stock RSX brakes to do the job, but maybe a set of front 'n back disc brakes might do the job, I don't know.

    So my experience with showing up with a bike was generally great. Most places like the small town B 'n B's, hostels, pensions and hotels had a courtyard/back area where you could stash the bikes, in many cases under cover and sometimes even a locked storage area or in an area that only BnB/hotel/hostel guests have easy access to. Only in the super crowded cities like Amsterdam and London were we forced to park our bikes in the street, and in the case of Amsterdam, there's public and/or cheap cycle parking garages everywhere so we basically stashed our bikes for a few days and walked/bussed/tube'd around there.

    We never really asked to take our bikes inside the rooms because 99% of the time, in small towns, the risk of theft is just really small, if it was a rare case where the bike had to be left in a publicly accessible place wherever we were sleeping, we locked them up with the cable locked, covered the saddles for rain, and called it good. It's not like ours were ever the only bikes there, either. The only time we did take a bike into the room (and insisted on it) is when one of them was stolen in London. I told them you either let me take it in the room or refund my money, since our lock was cut in half. And just about every single place we stayed was really cramped (at least by USA standards, I guess) and having two bikes in a tiny room would have been a major pain in the saddle region, so we didn't want to do that at all. In general in the small towns it was never a surprise to anyone when you tell them you need a place to park the bikes, especially along the popular national cycling routes where we were, so they were always prepared to accomodate. So don't sweat it!

    Ditto with finding places to sleep. I recommend that at 4pm you just start looking for a place, if you get told no, ride on to find somewhere else. Somehow we always seemed to luck out and get a room. And this was during the "high" season. We did have tents so if worse came to worse... but we never had a problem finding a place, so we could have left the tents at home and been fine, but having camping as an option is good and you'll stay in some scenic places you won't see from inside a hotel. Some of the coolest people we met on the whole trip were in campsites, you just never know. But tents are heavy.

    The paths along the Rhine vary quite a bit. Sometimes it's a cycle-only path which was ideal, but sometimes those cycle-only surfaces were bumpy and not as well maintained as the roads. I was surprised how much dirt paths there were along some sections. One day we rode almost all day on dirt... and it rained like crazy that day so it was pretty crazy blasting through all the wet gravel and sometimes downright mud. Be prepared to have some filthy bikes to wash off (somehow) when you get to your hotel if you hit rain. We never had problems scrounging water to at least wash off the drivetrain and somethign to dry the chains with though. Sometimes the route is just along low-use roads near the river, which were great. Sometimes the path was right along the river, sometimes wandered away from it, through the small towns and whatnot, which was great for finding a place to eat/sleep/duck out of rain. You'll see plenty of water for sure.

    The path along the Rhine is on both sides of the river most of the way, you it's great, you have a choice. It was fun to ride on the French side where things were a little different from the German side, for example. Just remember that the signage was uniformly iffy and sometimes just hard to spot on both sides, so maps and ideally google maps on a mobile device are essential as hell.

    Good luck with your trip and let us know how it goes! I'd SO love to go to Italy and Greece! Maybe soon!

  5. #5
    djb
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    fun read, makes me hope my kids would be up for something like this one day ( I have missed my real touring days since they popped into this world)

    thks for taking time to put it all down.
    cheers

  6. #6
    Godfather of Soul SBRDude's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by esassaman View Post
    Over the alps with a fully loaded bike? Eeek I hope you're in fantastic shape. Even by the end of a 2 month trip I would avoid the mountains with all that weight like the plague. But hey that's just me, if you've done full-on Alps category mountains before and you want to do it again, you rock Me, I'd take the train over the mountains. Or UP the mountains and ride down, though you better have freaking good brakes to keep your bike under control down a steep hill. I wouldn't trust my stock RSX brakes to do the job, but maybe a set of front 'n back disc brakes might do the job, I don't know.
    I'll be doing a light tour, not fully loaded. All my gear, including racks and bags, pencils out at 17 lbs. I'll be using a Cyclocross bike and that weighs just over 20 lbs, so weight isn't a big concern. But, yes, I plan to be in good riding shape because I want to do some hard riding during the tour as well as enjoy myself.
    So my experience with showing up with a bike was generally great. Most places like the small town B 'n B's, hostels, pensions and hotels had a courtyard/back area where you could stash the bikes, in many cases under cover and sometimes even a locked storage area or in an area that only BnB/hotel/hostel guests have easy access to. Only in the super crowded cities like Amsterdam and London were we forced to park our bikes in the street, and in the case of Amsterdam, there's public and/or cheap cycle parking garages everywhere so we basically stashed our bikes for a few days and walked/bussed/tube'd around there.

    We never really asked to take our bikes inside the rooms because 99% of the time, in small towns, the risk of theft is just really small, if it was a rare case where the bike had to be left in a publicly accessible place wherever we were sleeping, we locked them up with the cable locked, covered the saddles for rain, and called it good. It's not like ours were ever the only bikes there, either. The only time we did take a bike into the room (and insisted on it) is when one of them was stolen in London. I told them you either let me take it in the room or refund my money, since our lock was cut in half. And just about every single place we stayed was really cramped (at least by USA standards, I guess) and having two bikes in a tiny room would have been a major pain in the saddle region, so we didn't want to do that at all. In general in the small towns it was never a surprise to anyone when you tell them you need a place to park the bikes, especially along the popular national cycling routes where we were, so they were always prepared to accomodate. So don't sweat it!

    Ditto with finding places to sleep. I recommend that at 4pm you just start looking for a place, if you get told no, ride on to find somewhere else. Somehow we always seemed to luck out and get a room. And this was during the "high" season. We did have tents so if worse came to worse... but we never had a problem finding a place, so we could have left the tents at home and been fine, but having camping as an option is good and you'll stay in some scenic places you won't see from inside a hotel. Some of the coolest people we met on the whole trip were in campsites, you just never know. But tents are heavy.

    The paths along the Rhine vary quite a bit. Sometimes it's a cycle-only path which was ideal, but sometimes those cycle-only surfaces were bumpy and not as well maintained as the roads. I was surprised how much dirt paths there were along some sections. One day we rode almost all day on dirt... and it rained like crazy that day so it was pretty crazy blasting through all the wet gravel and sometimes downright mud. Be prepared to have some filthy bikes to wash off (somehow) when you get to your hotel if you hit rain. We never had problems scrounging water to at least wash off the drivetrain and somethign to dry the chains with though. Sometimes the route is just along low-use roads near the river, which were great. Sometimes the path was right along the river, sometimes wandered away from it, through the small towns and whatnot, which was great for finding a place to eat/sleep/duck out of rain. You'll see plenty of water for sure.

    The path along the Rhine is on both sides of the river most of the way, you it's great, you have a choice. It was fun to ride on the French side where things were a little different from the German side, for example. Just remember that the signage was uniformly iffy and sometimes just hard to spot on both sides, so maps and ideally google maps on a mobile device are essential as hell.

    Good luck with your trip and let us know how it goes! I'd SO love to go to Italy and Greece! Maybe soon!
    Thanks for all this information - exactly what I was looking for. You have been a great help.

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    Thanks for sharing your trip!
    ...

  8. #8
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    Sounds like an awesome trip, how common are campsites there and how expensive are they? Are they like national forest campsites or more like a KOA? I loved how in New Zealand all the private campsites had a public kitchen, one less thing to carry.

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    Campsites are *everywhere*, if you have a cycling map you will see tons of them. By far the biggest thing we relied on to find campsites was google maps on my mobile phone. Just search on "camping" since that's close enough in Danish and German ("campingplatz") you'll find all the local campsites easy. Also a great resource if you have the time to get picky and want to see some reviews is http://www.eurocampings.co.uk/en/europe/, and they have a real nice mobile version of their website so you can search for campsite reviews that way too. They are VERY different from USA campsites. They are uber plush, with all kinds of facilities. They have kitchens, usually a cafe or mini-store, sometimes with pools, TV rooms, showers, bathrooms, dish washing areas, etc. So yeah forget the camping stove we used it ONCE pretty much because I bought a brand new whisperlite international stove and we lugged it (with a full bottle of fuel) all over Europe and I just wanted to use the darn thing at least once!

    They do have free primitive camp sites here and there, but we only actually found one on our whole trip. They're just not popular I guess.

    Bring an aluminum pot and some cutlery so you have the option of going to the store and cooking pasta or whatnot in the camping site kitchens. We did that a few times, it was very weird going to a store and not recognizing a darn thing or being able to read any labels, but we managed to find simple things like pasta, sauce, sausage, etc. and cook up a few simple tasty meals. If you're not short on money, it's just so easy to either eat in camp at the restaraunt or take your bikes down a road a bit to find something to eat. Especially when you're tired Then you can enjoy a nice beer with your meal and not worry about cleanup and relax your tired legs. I loved the camps, they are by far the cheapest way to get some awesome scenic views right from your campsite of the Rhine and there are quite a few right on the river all along the way.

  10. #10
    djb
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    France is quite similiar, with campgrounds galore, and good documentation in each region/"departement" or county like thing that shows where camping, hotels, b+bs etc are.
    It is so nice to be able to camp and therefore travel so much more affordabley than by doing hotels. I saved b+bs for when the weather was truly awful.

  11. #11
    Formerly Known as Newbie Juha's Avatar
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    I opened this thread expecting to see stuff about touring in Northern Europe... but I find Germany, France etc instead. Sheesh.

    Just kidding, glad you had a great trip. I have plans to ride parts of the big river valleys in Germany or France one day. Can't wait!

    --J
    To err is human. To moo is bovine.

    Who is this General Failure anyway, and why is he reading my drive?


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  12. #12
    djb
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    not that it helps, but my German friend with whom I toured in France, has bike toured in Norway--but it has been so long since he told me about it I cant recall the details (and in any case, all the names were new to me so they didnt really stick with me.)
    I believe he went back twice, and very much enjoyed it. He did say and show me photos of the area where he went was much more isolated than any of the places we biked in France together. I think he liked that contrast, personally I very much enjoy going into villages often and meeting people a lot.

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