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Need Help Planning My First Tour.

Old 06-08-15, 04:33 PM
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Need Help Planning My First Tour.

Greetings,

I've been following the forum for about a week now and I've decided to join. Recently, I've decided to follow my dream to travel Europe by bike. I'm handling the gear part alright for now, but I'm having major problems with planning the route. I've never done anything like this and I don't speak anything other than English. I would like to land in either Porto or Lisbon, Portugal around Nov - Dec, travel South into Spain and up the Mediterranean coast, hop the Alps by train, down Italy to the boot, hop over to Sicily, visit Palermo, and then take a ferry to Greece and bike to Athens. My question is, how do I accomplish this? I feel that paper maps would require dozens of pages for each leg and I won't have access to a printer most of the time (I plan to do a lot of wild/stealth camping). However, a GPS would think I'm a car and tell me to take major highways. How do I get started? Thank you so much fellow travelers.
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Old 06-08-15, 05:02 PM
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Do a couple of 50 mile overnighters, minimally, before striking out for Europe. Halve the gear and double the money. Digest crazyguyonabike.com: Bicycle Touring: A place for bicycle tourists and their journals. You'll find journals about your route there, and a lot more. Then, just do it. (Make sure you're medical insurance is valid for this trip.)

Rough out your route with Google Maps, buy paper maps for each country you're going through, use the GPS to figure out how far to the next town/service. Join www.warmshowers.org.
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Old 06-08-15, 05:04 PM
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This is a copy of a power point slide of the route we took starting in Lisbon.



Just look at the cities you would like to visit or avoid, and use one of the many scaled Michelin maps to find a road that will get you there. When my wife and I left Lisbon, all we had was the first day planned to get us out of the city. That changed when we were buying ferry tickets; the ticket agent showed us a better route.

There are also many national cycling routes in most of those countries. Do some net searches and also look at Eurovelo routes. I did not find many "wild" camping opportunities in Portugal or Spain; pretty open with a lot of fences. It is not legal in France. There are a lot of campgrounds, but most are not cheap.

A GPS with Garmin's Europe City Navigator on it is really good. It has all the roads and is really handy for getting out of larger cities. We will try to set up our phones for use in Europe for this summer, but we will still have the dedicated GPS with us.

Last edited by Doug64; 06-08-15 at 11:14 PM.
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Old 06-09-15, 05:35 AM
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Originally Posted by RedandBlack
I would like to land in either Porto or Lisbon, Portugal around Nov - Dec, travel South into Spain and up the Mediterranean coast,
A good deal of the Andalucian coast is not great riding due to development and the associated traffic.

Michelin makes great regional road maps of Europe. I planned a 7 week spin around Andalucia using the map for that area and the "Rough Guide," which is a series of travel books. I figured out where I wanted to go and then drew lines between towns, usually using the smallest roads I could find. In general, costal roads are going to be some of most heavily travelled roads if they are in tourist regions.

Also note that it's not always easy to take your bike on a train in Europe. While it can be easier in some countries, you cannot expect to just hop on any train with your bike.
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Old 06-09-15, 06:58 AM
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Check the weather. November/December would definitely not be my preferred time to travel around the Med -- it could be both cold and rainy. Can you wait until March, when it will be getting much nicer? If you're sticking to the Mediterranean, you won't actually be going anywhere near the Alps, so not sure I understand the need to hop them by train.
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Old 06-09-15, 07:39 AM
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I bought paper maps in book sellers shops as I went along.. starting with the town nearest the Airport..
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Old 06-09-15, 10:02 AM
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Doug64: It looks like you may have taken an established trail through Andalucia ( TransAndalus, Andalucí*a en MTB :: 2.000 Kms de ruta en bicicleta de montaña - Home ). Your route seems very similar to the one I'm planning so I'm very interested. What accommodations did you use on your trip? I was thinking that if I can't find any wild/stealth opportunities I could hit the string of national parks that seem t be 50-75 miles apart. We're the ones in Spain cheap? I've been looking at the Eurovelo routes lately, but I can't figure out through their website if the trails actually exist or not. Most say "unrealized" for majority of the length. I look forward to hearing more about your trip.

IndyFabz: Did you take the trail I mentioned above through Andalucia? You make a good point about traveling along the coast and traffic/main roads. I'll have to keep that in mind when route planning.

Boudicca: I'm planning on leaving in Nov/Dec for several reasons. Airfare is significantly cheaper, I'll have all my gear/prep/planning done around that time, I'm planning on leaving my current living situation around then, and I want to get started in the off season when everything's cheaper and I don't have to deal with as many tourists. I figured the Med would have the nicest weather around this time so that is how I'm planning this first leg. The numbers I saw were averages highs around 60F for this time year so that seems more than doable. Should I be expecting colder or just wild fluctuations day-to-day? As for the alps... Yeah, I know that now after some time on google earth last night. When thinking about crossing into Italy I just had this image in my mind..
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Old 06-09-15, 10:15 AM
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By the time you reach the Alpes, you will be fit enough to climb. Big climbs are part of the attraction.
Don't over-plan, just keep a rough direction in mind and be prepared to alter according to weather/advice.
Buy maps and get camping advice from local tourist info centres.
Smart phones are useful for accessing this info.

I have used local trains where needed, esp to get into/out of major cities, to small commuter stops on the outskirts. Also useful for illness, injury, breakdowns.
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Old 06-09-15, 02:31 PM
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Originally Posted by RedandBlack
IndyFabz: Did you take the trail I mentioned above through Andalucia? You make a good point about traveling along the coast and traffic/main roads. I'll have to keep that in mind when route planning.
I did a loop from Sevilla that I planned myself. Started NW through Aracena and Aroche then turned east within sight of the border of Portugal at Encinasola.

Later in the trip I hit the coast from a bit east of Almeria to Torre del Mar, where I headed back into the interior of the region. That was the least enjoyable part of the trip. My trip was 15 years ago. At the time, the N-340 road along the coast was one of the more dangerous roads in Europe accident-wise. Lots of intoxicated tourists during high season. I was there in April so it wasn't as bad, but there was still a good amount of traffic and drab "urbanizations." If you take a southern route, skirt El Ejido. There roads to the south to avoid it (through Almerimar). The area is home to dismal plastic tent farming. Lots of alcoholism and tensions between natives and migrant workers.

Except along the cost and in Cordoba (which has a nice place right on the edge of the city), the commercial campground scene was somewhat sketchy. Places were out of business or not open for the season. Sevilla also has a campground just east of the city that is literally right next to the airport. A bit noisy at times, but the airport wasn't that busy when I was there. The interior of the region is where the charm is. If you are a fan of Spaghetti Westerns, ride through the Tabernas Desert area, where parts of "The Good, the Bad & the Ugly," "A Fist Full of Dollars" and similar films were shot. There are a couple of theme parks you can visit in Tabernas, with Mini-Hollywood being the most noted.

You could encounter could, wet/snowy weather in parts of the interior during the time you plan. For example, it's my understanding that the Grazalema area gets a good amount of winter snow. Certainly the Alpujarras do. I saw snow on the hills surrounding Cazzorla in late March/early April.
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Old 06-09-15, 02:37 PM
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BTW there are a Lot of Europeans speaking several languages , A friend said Visiting a US Franchise Burger joint in Munich Germany

he said one of the counter people was switching back and forth fluent in at least 4. and that was 'just' a burger joint..
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Old 06-09-15, 08:28 PM
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Originally Posted by RedandBlack
Doug64: It looks like you may have taken an established trail through Andalucia ( TransAndalus, Andalucí*a en MTB :: 2.000 Kms de ruta en bicicleta de montaña - Home ). Your route seems very similar to the one I'm planning so I'm very interested. What accommodations did you use on your trip? I was thinking that if I can't find any wild/stealth opportunities I could hit the string of national parks that seem t be 50-75 miles apart. We're the ones in Spain cheap? I've been looking at the Eurovelo routes lately, but I can't figure out through their website if the trails actually exist or not. Most say "unrealized" for majority of the length. I look forward to hearing more about your trip.
No, we were not on any marked established route from Lisbon to Valencia. and it was mostly roads from Valencia to France.

While most of the minor roads are good cycling , Spain has a unique situation. Due to the taxing/toll structure for trucks on the freeways, an awful lot of trucks use the "N" and "D" roads (look at a michelin map)instead of the "E" roads (freeways). Go figure. They are still safe to ride on, just busy.

We were there in the summer of 2011 and rode the coast up from Valencia to Barcelona, and then into France. While the coast was busy it was good riding and 20F cooler than the 110F temperatures we encountered inland. Spain also has the 1.5 meter clearance law.

This is on the Spanish coast heading north from Valencia. I didn't mind riding on the coast at all; the views were really nice, and it was a lot cooler.


Pretty typical of Spain's "N" Roads. Heading north toward France. Those are the Pyrenees in the distance, and the border.


Most Eurovelo routes that I have seen are on roads, some marked and some unmarked. Where separate trails are available they tend to utilize them.

Portugal and Spain had some the least expensive campgrounds. Serpa, Portugal has a nice municipal campground.

Last edited by Doug64; 06-11-15 at 11:41 AM.
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Old 06-10-15, 01:19 AM
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Originally Posted by RedandBlack
I've never done anything like this and I don't speak anything other than English. .
Since you are not planning to go until Nov/Dec, I would strongly recommend checking out your local colleges to see if they have any courses in other languages ... introductory courses. It would come in handy to know at least a little bit of other languages as you travel through Europe.

Next up ... I second the idea of doing some short tours now to get a feel for it.

And ... are you camping and have you checked to see if campgrounds are open in Nov/Dec where you're going? We were in France into late September and the campgrounds were closing up around us.
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Old 06-10-15, 10:51 AM
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As someone else said, almost all young Europeans speak multiple languages. A great place to pick up the few hundred words you'd need to ask directions is duolingo. It's free and lots of people love it. I've also used and liked rocketspanish -- it's not free but it's pretty cheap. I downloaded their files and played them on my iPod for a month and it made traveling in Mexico easy.
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Old 06-10-15, 11:53 AM
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Originally Posted by RedandBlack
I've never done anything like this and I don't speak anything other than English.
how much of the local language do you need? i only speak the english, german, and
enough chinese to get into trouble. no serious difficulties touring in myanmar or
vietnam or cambodia or laos. just bought a (eek!) small paper phrasebook.
picked the ten most useful phrases, along with the numbers, on a single sheet
of (eek!) paper stuck in the map pocket next to the (eek!) paper map.

part of the adventure is trying to decipher the local script on the roadsigns that
doesn't match the standard script on the maps, then trying to get directions from
the locals who don't speak the national language.

you'll be in europe! all the languages are related, you'll get by.
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Old 06-10-15, 02:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Machka
And ... are you camping and have you checked to see if campgrounds are open in Nov/Dec where you're going? We were in France into late September and the campgrounds were closing up around us.
+1. From the web site of a campground I stayed at near the end of my trip in Andalucía:

Estamos cerrados al público durante el invierno, según las condiciones del tiempo abriremos para la Semana Santa.

My Spanish is a bit rusty, but I know the first part reads "We are closed to the public during winter." I think the second part says something like We'll open for Easter week depending on conditions.
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Old 06-10-15, 02:24 PM
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I'm in the process of making a phrase book by talking to some locals I know so I should be able to communicate simple thoughts and requests.

Doug64: Which roads are less busy? "N" and "D"?
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Old 06-10-15, 05:49 PM
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Originally Posted by RedandBlack
I'm in the process of making a phrase book by talking to some locals I know so I should be able to communicate simple thoughts and requests.

Doug64: Which roads are less busy? "N" and "D"?
It depends where you are at. We used Michelin Maps when we could find them. In Spain the the "N" roads are fairly busy highways. Portugal also uses the "N" designation. In France their "D" roads are the equivalent of "N". The "N" roads are the busiest road I would ride on, followed by "A" and then "HU" or some other designations. The way we looked for routes was to look for white roads first (HU or other), yellow roads second (A), and red roads third(N). The freeway type roads are usually denoted by double red lines with with a color in between the lines. Get a Michelin Map at a bookstore, and you will see what I mean. I just checked Google Map, and they have a totally different system.

The main words to learn are: please, thank you, hello, toilet, food, cafe/ restaurant, room/hotel, and if you want a real cup of coffee, "more hot water please" (mas agua caliente por favor). "Camping" is pretty universal.

Last edited by Doug64; 06-10-15 at 06:05 PM.
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