Brian and Elizabeth from New Zealand make significant trips in Europe by bike, to connect with their past and keep the environmental impact low
Over the past 40 years we have been very fortunate in being able to travel widely, both for pleasure and on business to Europe, Asia and the Pacific Islands (twice yearly sales trips to the Fiji Islands was work I could have done indefinitely).
However, over time the excitement which we had on the first trips in the late 1970s, when our photo albums included supermarket labels and entry tickets because it was all different and a novelty, has waned. We found that we needed to reassess our decisions on where to go and think about why we were going there. There are many places that we haven’t visited but should we go there just because we have never visited that location? In addition, we did not want to be travellers who added to overtourism problems in areas where there were already too many visitors.
These thoughts lead us to decide to visit only places which were of specific interest to us, places which we had a connection with and places where we could be making a contribution to tourism growth in that area as opposed to adding to a problem. As keen cyclists we found that we could achieve many of those aims on our bikes while reducing the environmental impact of travelling and so, where practical, that has become our preferred travel transport.
As second and third generation New Zealanders, our family origins in Scotland and England have meant that visits to those places has given us a connection and added to the experience of going there. Finding ancestors graves and walking the streets which grandparents would have walked when they were thinking of emigrating to New Zealand has a lot more meaning to a visit.
Visiting the First World War cemeteries in France and Belgium is always a very emotional experience but seeing the graves of men from my hometown, men who my grandparents would have known, makes those visits even more special. Visiting the cemeteries and memorials is also a tribute to the men who gave so much and are possibly the only time that someone has bothered to research the location and visit a named grave or searched for a name on a memorial.
Setting off from Hamburg on our first long distance cycle trip was daunting but as with many journeys, the first step (or day in our case) was the hardest. That trip took us through Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, England and back into France finishing in Paris with 2700kms on the clock. Three years later we returned to our bikes in Paris and continued south covering another 2000km. Big cities aren’t much fun on a bike so our route was through smaller towns which most people haven’t heard of and where we could support accommodation providers, cafes, restaurants and attractions which are off the traditional tourist route.
As all travellers know, meeting people is a highlight when travelling and it was no different for us. For some reason locals will talk easily with cyclists and we received many invitations to join people for coffee in their houses and at cafes.
Long distance cycling isn’t for everyone but there are so many ways of enjoying travel by bike particularly now that electric bikes are so common. We travel carrying all of our belongings but there are supported routes where someone will take your bags to the next hotel for you and many possibilities for day trips. We all talk about what we have seen on our travels but on a bike you can add sound and smell to what you have experienced.