“Hello is the minimum”

Because we’re traveling (almost) every day, we encounter many people along the way. This may seem obvious, but these interactions are a significant part of our journey, as they can have a major influence on how we feel ourselves, or how we feel about a region or type of traveller – something we wouldn’t feel as strongly if we were to (shortly) travel to from A to destination B and back again. As we meet many people along the way, we ourselves have a small set of guidelines. These would be: always greet a fellow bike traveller; greet back cyclists/people who greet us; be considerate to others, and in nasty situations, let our feelings be known too… These guidelines are enough for most situations, but even though we have cycled through a few countries so far, we already have felt the (social) differences and their effect on us.

98 - Heidelberg (DE)

 

Always greeting other bike travellers seems to be natural for us and it gives motivation and a nice feeling when you meet another traveller. Near Koblenz for example, we were biking in the rain, but at least we had the wind in our favour. However, we were greeted with such enthusiasm by cyclists coming from the other way (who had the rain ánd were up against the wind), that we could only feel encouraged by them. Hence it also gives a strange feeling when you meet fellow cyclists who don’t greet. Especially near the region of Basel we met several travellers during the day, but none of them greeted in any way. It felt very distant to cycle there, and the first one to say hi again felt as a huge relief. Sometimes it also comes as a relief to finally see a fellow cyclist after a period of cycling alone. Near Sagogn for example, we saw two cycling up another hill, but all four of us were waving fanatically to each other from a distance, happy to see there are more crazy people to cycle there.

We of course greet not only fellow cycling travellers, but also others who we meet along the way, though we usually let it depend on them. Here in Italy for example, almost every speed cyclist greets us, so now we greet them too by standard. This is different from what we’re used to in the Netherlands where we don’t greet each other, as usually speed cyclists are not happy with bulky and slower cyclists like us. Thus, it’s very nice to see there can be friendly folk in Lycra too. In Covolo (Italy), a cyclist even cycled without hands so he could give us an applause and a thumbs up, and he couldn’t have come at a better time as we were at our physical limit (we passed the 100 km that day). Needless to say we greeted him back with much enthusiasm.

Sometimes however, there is a strange lack of interaction. When we entered Switzerland for example, we felt very awkward as people just stared at us and did not even reply our greetings. We therefore had the feeling people looked a bit down on us (maybe for not travelling by car), and it also made us insecure to ask people for help. Also here in Italy, Geart is a bit disappointed that – so far – nobody has started a conversation during our breaks, which we often did have in Germany and the Netherlands; people enthusiastically asking where we’re from or what our plans are.

Sometimes people also come over to not just ask us what we’re doing, but see that we can use a bit of help. In the short time we were in France for example, we had a very nice car driver who stopped when we were looking for our route, and in ten minutes explained (in French) to us in detail how to cycle the next 25 (!) kilometres. We (with a minimum amount of French understanding) only realised afterwards how much he had told us when we kept recognising markers he had mentioned.

Unfortunately, the French car driver was an exception to the rule. Because if there is one category person that is frustrating for us however, the clear winner is the car driver. When we cycle on the regular roads, we encounter many careless drivers. Especially now in Italy, we get honked at very often for being there, but even worse is when they drive as if we’re not even there, putting us in a dangerous position. Also in Switzerland we had our fair share of problems with them, though the summit was the Ofenpass, where many car drivers (and motor bikers) were driving through as if it were their playground, not taking into consideration other people’s safety nor traffic rules. We were honked at many times for ‘interrupting’ their playful drive, and one driver aggressively cut off Ydwine and braked in front of her so she fell off her bike, just to show her who was in charge. The Ofenpass was therefore a miserable experience, not because of the climbing work, but because of the constant fear and stress of how the next driver will be. On the Ofenpass (and also here in Italy) we therefore have used our last guideline many times; let your negative feelings be known as well. This we do not just to let the car driver know they bring us into danger by their behaviour, but also for ourselves: if we stay silent, it will impact our cycling negatively for holding our emotions in.

233 - Il Fuorn (CH)

Reactions and people differ per day and per region or situation, and luckily we have many positive encounters. On the Julierpass (one day before the Ofenpass) for example, car drivers were very careful and considerate for us two cycling in the pouring rain, even waving and giving thumbs up to encourage us. And when we reached the top, the first thing we heard was a “Bravo!” by a car driver who congratulated us and took a picture. And other situations too, like in Valstagna (Italy) when a man helped Ydwine push up her bike on a steep hill, a woman in a garden waving to us, or a cyclist calling and waving from another road (and the car behind him instantly honking angrily at him for doing so).

Yes, sometimes a situation can be good and bad at the same time. In France Geart was told off by a woman who thought Geart hadn’t greeted her properly (his “bonjour” missed enthusiasm? We don’t know). Though Geart was taken aback with her angry lecture in French, we do have to say her punchline is in line with our view: “hello is the minimum!”

Advertisements

Nus discurrin Rumantsch

Us lêste blogpost wie oer wyldkampearen, mar de lêste pear dagen wienen frijwat it tsjinoerstelde. Sadree’t wy de grins fan Switserlân oerfytsten, hienen wy net allinnich it idee dat wyldkampearen dreech wie, mar wy waarden ek troch freonen útnûge om by harren te ferbliuwen en hja hienen sels freonen en famylje frege oft wy net dêr sliepe koenen. Mei’t wy by minsken thús binne, leare wy ek mear oer harren regio, kultuer en yn dit gefal benammen nijsgjirrich de Reto-Romaanske taal, oftewol it Rumantsch.

Our last blog entry was about wild camping, but these past days have been the very opposite. We have entered Switzerland where not only we feel wild camping is difficult, but also friends of ours have invited us to stay with them and, what’s more, made sure that along the way we could stay at friends or family of theirs that can take us in for a night. Because we are staying at people’s houses, we also learn more about the region, culture, and particularly interesting in this case, the Rumantsch language.

Yn Switserlân binne fjouwer offisjele talen: Dútsk, Frânsk, Italiaansk en Rumantsch. Nettsjinsteande dy offisjele status is it Rumantsch in minderheidstaal mei minder as 1% fan Switsers dy’t it praat. It is in Romaanske taal dy’t yn de kanton fan Graubünden praten wurdt en hat gâns farianten tusken elke regio en sels doarpen. Der binne fiif grutte taalfarianten (Sursilvan, Sutsilvan, Surmiran, Puter en Vallader) en allegearre wurde yn ’e regio’s op de skoallen jûn. Boppe al dy fariëteiten hawwe hja in keunstmjittige taal (Grishun), dy’t foar algemiene boadskippen en ynstituten brûkt wurdt.

In Switzerland there are four official languages: German, French, Italian and Rumantsch. Despite the official status however, Rumantsch language is a minority language as less than 1% of the Swiss speak it. It is a Romance language spoken in the canton of Graubünden and knows many varieties for each district and even villages. There are five major language varieties (Sursilvan, Sutsilvan, Surmiran, Puter and Vallader) and each of them are taught at schools in the district as well.  On top of all varieties, there is an artificial language (Grishun) which can be used for general messages or outlets.

Om lykwols by de Rumantsch-sprekkende gebieten te kommen, moasten wy (behoarlik) klimme, om’t de Reto-Romaanske doarpen almeast heech op ’e berchhellingen lizze. Dat wy binne yndied net mear yn ’e Lege Lannen, mei’t wy al in soad hierspjeldbochten hân hawwe (en der komme noch moai wat) om wer in heuvel of berch te feroverjen (ús freon: ‘In hierspjeldbocht? Wat? Dat neame wy hjir gewoan diken!’). De hichten binne in fersiking foar ús en ús lichems en dan hat Ydwine ek nochris lêst fan hichtefrees. Mar as men ienris boppe is, dan jout dat alle kearen in geweldigen oerwinningsgefoel en tagelyk in fantastysk útsjoch.

To get to the Rumantsch speaking areas however, we needed to climb – a lot – as their villages are mostly up in the mountains. Yes, we’re not in the Low Countries anymore for sure, as we have had many hairpin corners already (and many more to come) to tackle yet another hill or mountain (our friend: “A hairpin corner? What? We just call them streets here!”). The heights are testing us and our bodies as well as Ydwine’s fear of them. But once you’re on top, it gives a great sense of victory as well as a magnificent view every time.

204 - Mon (CH)

The view from the village of Mon

Lykas sein koenen wy mei de help fan Giuventetgna Rumantscha (de Reto-Romaanske jongereinorganisaasje) by freonen en famylje ferbliuwe. Doe’t wy ien kear yn Romaansk gebiet wienen, krigen wy in wakker waarm wolkom, dat begûn yn Chur dêr’t wy frege waarden om in fraachpetear te ûndergean by de Romaanske radio/tv-stasjon RTR Svizra Rumantscha (sis mar, de Romaanske wjergader fan Omrop Fryslân). Wy waarden útnûge foar in kop kofje en der waard in koart filmke makke oer ús frjemde Friezen dy’t dêr alhiel op ’e fyts kommen wienen.

As said, we could stay with the help of Giuventetgna Rumantscha (the Rumantsch youth organisation) with Rumantsch friends and families already. Once in Rumantsch area we had a warm welcome too, which started in Chur where we were asked to come to the Rumantsch radio/TV station RTR Svizra Rumantscha. There we were invited for a cup of coffee and to shoot a short video about us strange Frisians coming by bike.

Nei de tiid naam in freondinne ús mei troch de stêd en ieten wy Maluns (in typysk gerjocht foar de regio) as middeisiten. Dêrop koenen wy ‘skoan’ de folgjende 35 kilometer omheech nei Sagogn dwaan. Underweis kamen wy nei Bonaduz oer de saneamde ‘Kanadeeske dyk’, mei’t it earste part fan dy dyk opfallend rjocht troch de bosk giet. It paad brocht ús omheech en sa hienen wy in prachtútsjoch oer de Ryn nei’t er wer omleech gie om ús de folgjende klim te fersoargjen.

Afterwards, a friend of ours took us through the city and we had Maluns (a typical dish for the region) together as lunch. Powered by them, we could overcome the next 35 km up to Sagogn, which took us along a beautiful road after Bonaduz, also dubbed “the Canadian road” as it is an oddly straight road for the first part of the woods. The road took us up with a great view over the Rhine, and then down again to the next hill to climb.

158 - Bonaduz (CH)

The ‘Canadian Road’

Doe’t wy ienris yn Sagogn wienen (dêr’t se de fariant fan Sursilvan prate) koenen wy by in freon ferbluwe. Dêr hawwe wy trije dagen taholden en op twa dagen dêrfan naam er ús mei om te hiken. De earste kuiertocht wie in rêstigenien mei in dûk yn Lag la Cresta, mar de twadde wie in stûfenien (en hiel aaklik foar Ydwine) mei steile en glysterige hellings. Om dy reden hienen wy de tredde deis aardich spierpine fan it hiken, mei’t men oare spieren brûkt as mei fytsen. Wy hawwe dy dagen ek in soad praten oer ús talen, mei’t wy ûnderfinings diele kinne as minderheidstaalsprekkers en boppedat hawwe sawol hy as Geart beide niget oan literatuer, yn it bysûnder poëzy.

Once in Sagogn (where they speak the Sursilvan variety), we could stay at another friend’s place. Here we had three days, and he took us hiking for the first two of them. The first tour was a relaxed one with a swim in Lag la Cresta, but the second hike was a tough one (and very scary for Ydwine) with steep descents and slippery slopes. On our third day therefore, we had sore muscles as you use different ones with biking. These days we also had many talks on our languages, as we can share our experiences as minority language speakers and what is more, he and Geart are both fond of literature, with poetry in particular.

183 - St. Martin (CH)

Close to St. Martin

Nei ús ferbliuw yn Sagogn waard it wer heech tiid om op ’e fyts te stappen, hoe stadich en knoffelich oft dat ek gie mei ús spierpine (noch altiten!), om fierder de bergen yn te tsjen. Op nei Savignon dêr’t in oare freondinne wennet en dêr’t de fariant Surmiran praten wurdt. De rûte – mei ditkear twa tunnels en in soad ferkear – wie wer net maklik, mar wy rêden it op, al wienen wy in pear kilometers foar de einstreek stronttrochwiet reind. Yn Savognin bleaunen wy twa nachten oer, sadat wy it wer oer it libben en talen hawwe koenen en ús ta te rieden foar de neikommende útdaging: De Julierpas. Dy pas bringt ús út it Reto-Romaansksprekkend gebiet en op nei de folgjende etappe fan ús aventoer.

After Sagogn it was time to get on our bikes ever so slowly and clumsy because of the sore muscles (still!) and cycle even further into the mountains, to Savognin where another friend lives and where the Surmiran Rumantsch is spoken. The route was tough yet again and had tunnels with cars racing by, but we managed to arrive just after it had started to pour down, so the last kilometres were wet and cold for us. In Savognin we stayed for two nights, so we could stay and talk with our friend about life and our languages again, and prepare our next challenge: the Julier Pass, which will take us out from the Rumantsch speaking area and on to the next stage of our adventure.

209 - Savognin (CH)

Savognin

The myth of freedom

Travelling by bicycle with a tent gives you all the freedom in the world. You can go anywhere where you want, you can stop anywhere where you want to. If you have a tent with you, you practically have your home with you, which you can pitch everywhere.

Well, almost everywhere, because you can question the idea of freedom, as biking with a tent makes you dependent on several things as we experienced again this week.

The first thing is the weather, which you’re exposed to all the time. When we passed Xanten in Germany and wanted to camp, we thought of a strip of nature to give us some camping opportunities. But alas, a bridge was under construction and we couldn’t enter the area. To add to it, it started to rain quite heavily. After a coffee in a bus shelter, it was onwards again to look for a sweet spot. However, the places Geart thought were allright, Ydwine was less comfortable with. In the end we found a not so common place under an old railway bridge. It turned out to be a dry place with a terrific view in the morning.

 

The second thing is the area where you bike. After our bridge campsite, we were again for the look-out for a good spot in the middle of the famous Ruhrgebiet, which is -as you may know- very industrial and very urban. As the skies turned gray again, we were in a bit of a hurry too. We managed, sort of, in a kind of park, avoiding some thorny bushes.

24 - Neuss (DE).jpg

The next day we got a fine place Mondorf, out in the woods, covered by waist high grass, which unfortunately made the tent damp and our socks and shoes very wet. Packed with a damp tent, cycling in rain again, we decided to call it a day after noon and looked for a campsite, which we found in Bad Breisig. We could dry the tent there and even cook under a shelter, though sitting between the white campers, it felt a bit as a failure.

Third is your own physique and energy. Campsite or not, next day we had to pack our tent in the rain, and we didn’t have the chance to dry the tent as it rained throughout the day. On top of the rain, we realised after 15 kilometres that something was wrong with the Rain… no, Rhein. Tour boats said ‘Mosel’ instead of Rhein, we were welcomed in ‘sunny Untermosel’ (good joke) and indeed, when we had a proper look at the river, it wasn’t as broad and didn’t have a strong current anymore. You’ve guessed it, we were following the wrong river since Koblenz and had to turn back. Once back, we were soaked to the skin and especially Ydwine was too cold to do anything anymore (it was 13 degrees that day!). We decided to contact a Warmshower host last-minute and luckily, he was happy to host us, so we ended up in a warm house, with our tent drying over the bikes in the basement.

40 - Koblenz (DE)

Fifth is your luck. We had a Warmshower host again the next sunshiny day in Ingelheim, so we had a proper dry tent when we set off. We had many options that day too to camp, but where we ended up was what we called semi-wildcamping, since we were on a strip of grass where a camper stood already. Geart asked if we could be their neighbours for the night, which they were more than okay with. They were quite impressed with our endavour, and they offered us coffee (from a real cup!) and some radishes they had been given by the house next to the spot. Needless to say, this was a very nice variant of our wildcamping.

60 - Gimbsheim (DE).jpg

Geart was even offered the paper Bild, which our neighbour finished reading.

Last aspect (at least, as far as we can think of now) is your comfort with the legal aspects. On Friday we again had a good spot. Or so we thought. We had eaten, washed, brushed our teeth, and we had huddled up in the tent before the cold would set in. However, we were startled when all of a sudden we heard a car driving on our patch. Wasserrettungsdienst. We weren’t drowning, so did they have any objections with us camping there? They drove back and forth, leaving us nervous what would happen. We waited a bit, which felt like much longer, but finally, they left without stepping out or saying anything about us camping there. Geart relaxed a bit sooner than Ydwine, but we had a quiet night after that, though our sleep was a bit interrupted with any sound (did they call the authorities?).

Freedom may be a relative idea as we’ve noticed, but still you come to places where you wouldn’t be if not travelling by bike with a tent on your carrier. Usually you only hear the sound of the birds when you get out of the tent at six in the morning, when the sun is just getting above the trees, and the first ships with containers are passing by. Another night has passed, and a new day has broken; a new path lies before you, with no idea where, how or if you’ll pitch your tent that very evening.

69 - Sandhofen (DE)

In goed begjin is it heale wurk

Last time we wrote, we were in full prep-mode, and look at us now how the prep has helped us along the way!

Or so we thought, as there were a few bumps along the way.

When we handed in the keys to our house, we were faced with a fine hovering above our heads already as we did not fullfill the checklist. Luckily our neighbour offered to fix this (it’s a fine for not taking out the garbage which is collected once every two weeks), which would be nice as for us it’s more money left to pay for a hostel if needed on a rainy day.

Besides the problems with the house, we also had the first issues with our bikes: in Sneek/Snits, Geart had to replace his brand new tyre as it was bended, and we had to take a detour to a DIY shop so Ydwine could buy new nuts and bolts for her bikestraps (one had fallen off in Zwolle). Now here in Germany, Geart is waiting to spot the first Ortlieb dealer as his steering bag has locked itself for some reason.

Yes, we have arrived in Germany following the Rhine to Switzerland and are doing very well despite the few issues, as maybe our preparation was as good as it could be, as a trip always comes with something unexpected. What was unexpected though was our camping in green areas while we are cycling through industrial areas. Especially this weekend we cycled through a desolated Ruhr area, passing underneath oil pipes, padelling through streets designed for chemical lorries and cycling next to the Rhine with ships full of containers. It made us feel small, but at the same time it was empowering to be able to tackle this mass of concrete and steel. Nonetheless, we have found the patches of nature and nice cycling paths (along with many people who enjoyed this sunny weekend), which makes the first week a good start for us and the trip to come, or how we Frisians say: in goed begjin is it heale wurk.

26 - Köln (DE)35 - Mondorf (DE)

It peddeljend pear – The pedalling pair

We, yes we! We are planning to start a new cycle journey together. But before we set off on our bikes, we need to make some arrangements, like getting a proper bike for Ydwine for starters (done though!) and getting the gear to match the bike (a saddle that doesn’t feel like a torture device after 10 kilometres for example). In the meantime we are rounding off work assignments, handing over board tasks, collecting outdoor gear (we are now proud owners of a tarp too) and clearing out our humble abode from all the books, furniture and all the other stuff that we had gathered in the brief period that we lived there. An top of this, we both still have several trips planned abroad for work and poetry.

Despite all these tasks and activities, we have planned to start our cycling journey in Mid-May.  But because of all the other stuff we still don’t have a clear route yet, except for a very rough idea for a round trip through Europe which will start with going down to the Balkans. Guess we’ll figure it out while we go. We’ll see.

Because of the simple fact that Geart isn’t travelling alone anymore (oh how times have changed), this blog won’t be written by only himself anymore. We’ll spice things up and both contribute to this page. Since we both have our own interests and have our own way of experiencing things, we’ll both write our own posts on this blog. Be prepared, these alternate blogs will be different and irregular (we have the idea to write in Frisian (Frysk) too besides English). You’ll see as we’ll find our way for the new style of blogging. As we’re now travelling together, we have given the blog a new name too. Hope you like it, and otherwise tough luck, because we did our utmost to come to this very, very creative name.

Also bear in mind that we don’t do this trip entirely for ourselves, so if you like the stories and photographs we share, we hope you want to support Cycling out of Poverty.

Tútsjendefytsen

The idea of being on an adventure

The question when you’re on an adventure is usually answered that you’re on one as soon as you have left your doorstep. You can have an adventure in your back garden, if you want to. They say. One who inspires me greatly to get started in long distance cycling is Alaister Humphreys. He cycled the world around in four years and is now promoting microadventures in order to motivate people to go out and about. Take your bike and sleeping bag after work and go to the hills, cook your beans, sleep under a starry sky, boil water for your morning coffee and be on time for work again.

P1100057

Our wildcamp site close to the German city of Coesfeld.

All well and good, but it wasn’t until we reached Germany that we both had the idea of being away, of being on an adventure. We had time for a bike trip of approximately a week. We thought it would be nice to cycle along the river IJssel to Nijmegen and then a bit of the Roman Limes (the border line of the Roman Empire along the river Rhine). A bit touristic from the start, but what the heck we said to each other. Why not discover your own country a bit more?
We left Harns in the early morning and cycled along the old dyke to Spanga where we would meet a friend of mine (and my sponsor of my first big trip, Kleine Beer Brouwerij). Next day Kampen was our destination, where Ydwine’s sister lives.

 

 

After Kampen we followed the IJssel and there the ‘trouble’ started. The weather was really good, maybe a bit too hot and because then it was still a holiday so a lot of people were out and about. Above that The Netherlands is a bicycle country as you might now, so elderly couples on their e-bikes overtook us whistling and chatting while we panted on our loaded bikes in the blazing sun.
We still don’t know if we missed a turn or haven’t looked on the map properly, but all of a sudden there weren’t any other cyclists anymore. You would say that was a relief, but it was even worse. We got in the village of Giethoorn, which is called Venice of the North. Very small paths with loads of tourists that walk from one side of the village to the other side if they weren’t on the water. We struggled, but we survived!

P1100002

Giethoorn

In short, we didn’t make it to Nijmegen, we took a turn to the left in the direction of Germany, to Münster. Away from all the day-trippers. As soon as we were over the border and there wasn’t a living soul in sight, we could breathe again and said to each other that we now had the idea of being away, of being on an adventure. For me a big part of being on an adventure is wild camping. We did it once, since there are far less campsites in Germany than in The Netherlands. Wild camping is almost impossible in the crowded Netherlands where you can see a house or a farm in every field you’re standing in. Is that also why microadventures are more for countries like England and in Scandinavia for example. Or did we make a mistake from the start to follow a popular route? Or is it that I think The Netherlands is a bit flat and boring, so that I only have the idea of being away when I’m abroad, in unknown territory?

Than I’m lucky to say that we want to go on a longer trip to experience something beyond the packed, planned paths of The Netherlands and make an adventure of our own.

P1100099

At the fortress of Bad Bentheim.