Saturday, 2 July 2011

Final thoughts on the tour

I think this was the most - best? - planned holiday I've ever undertaken. I spent many happy hours beforehand poring over maps, reading motorcycle reviews and learning to ride a bike again. My planning was meticulous. Normally, I wouldn't dream of spending this much time preparing for a holiday. But this one was special - this was my retirement celebration and I loved it all.

The forethought paid off, since apart from one or two small hitches, everything went smoothly. This meant I could concentrate on getting on with the tour and not struggle with too many unforeseen interruptions.

Enjoying Europe
Travelling from town to town across a long distance does give the rider a taste of a whole country, not easily achieved in the usual holiday. The bike was particularly good at gaining access to town centres where often the most interesting buildings or sites were to be found. This was especially the case in Italy which is very tolerant of bikes.

Despite touring on my own, I found I spent a lot of time speaking to people on this holiday; frequently to ask for directions but there were more extended conversations in the hostels where many spoke good English. This makes for a more involved sort of holiday where one gets a chance to engage with the people of the regions one passes through. It's interesting to be an outsider looking in, but it's even better to be a participant in a dialogue.

Frightening oneself
Some people, I know, would be nervous to tour in a foreign country where they don't speak the language. In my case that wasn't a problem - I had been to Europe many times before and I could cope with French and Italian. What frightened me was riding the bike! Learning to ride again after years away from the bike was deeply scary. What one does without thought at 25, is not at all easy at 63 years old. It took a lot of practice for me to become comfortable again on two wheels. Indeed, it wasn't until the last week of the holiday that I got my confidence back. As I get older I find that I tend to avoid risk; if it's done anything, this holiday has shown me that in order to stay active and engaged with life I need frequently to challenge myself and avoid slipping into comfortable, familiar ways.

Biking versus walking
In recent years I've taken to walking, e.g. I backpacked the pilgrim routes from my home in Surrey to Mont St Michel in France. And I'm walking in stages the Camino di Compostella. So how does walking compare with biking? Well, biking certainly gets you further! It allows you to get an overview of a country or region. And for those who like speed, it supplies lots of fun on mountain and country roads. Walking is clearly slower but it gets you deeper into the countryside. It gives you time to soak up the landscape and listen to the sounds of nature. It's a slower and more meditative experience. Both are valid - but quite different - ways to experience travel and I've enjoyed them the two of them!

And as for my future holiday plans . . . Hmm. I wonder what it would be like to tour Europe on a bicycle?