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Michael Hodgson

Traveler at HI Travel Tales
Born to British parents in Canada, Michael Hodgson had been schlepped back and forth across the pond since he was a toddler. In college, he took the big leap and spent a few months in Kenya – and never looked back. His biology major somehow led him into a writing career, focusing on the outdoors, hiking and gear testing. Building on his lifetime of travel with travel writing was a natural, although he still loves to seek out the wilder side of a mountain – or a city -- for a good story. Michael also is a partner in a consulting business (www.NewNormalConsulting.com) built on a passion to help specialty businesses and brands succeed both domestically and internationally.
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While no bike tour company is exactly alike — and no two tours will likely ever be identical — there is common ground when bike touring. This “day in the life” story will help you to know what to expect during any given day bike touring in Europe. We have biked with ExperiencePlus! in Greece, Croatia and, in late Summer 2017, along the Danube River from Germany to Hungary, so our experience is quite varied.

No matter which company you end up biking with, all will share that common joy of navigating country roads, bike paths and along narrow village streets on two wheels on an adventure somewhere in Europe. There is a special bond and certain magic experienced when exploring Europe (or anywhere in the world for that matter) by bicycle.

Travel is slower than in a car or train, and you are closer to people and villages than on a river boat. You will discover a connection with the places you cycle through that is unique to bicycle touring – from conversations with locals in love with their village, culture and history, to magnificent views, landscapes and quaint cobblestone streets that will leave lasting impressions.

Follow along as we take you on a virtual journey through photographs from our most recent trip along the Danube that will give you an idea of what a day in the life of a bike tour in Europe is like.


Getting ready to go

Staying organized on a bike tour

Keeping your luggage and bike gear for the day well organized and not scattered about the room is essential to starting off your day in a smooth, organized, less stressful fashion. To learn our secrets from decades of travel, read our story, “Expert tips for packing and unpacking on tours,” so so your room will look like this each morning too!

Hotel breakfast buffets in Europe.

Breakfast buffets at the most European hotels include sumptuous food selections that include various meats, cheeses, vegetables, fruit, bread, pastries, cereals, juices and more. Enjoy, and fuel up well for the day ahead! Just don’t overdo it in your zeal. Lots of mornings to try it all!

Breakfasts are delicous.

Breakfasts are a time to fuel up. And, no, not every breakfast includes champagne, and even if it did, we’d recommend filling your glasses with juice, coffee or tea, and water, and going light on anything alcoholic. This was for the photo only — no, really!

Daily briefing for safety and planning.

The day starts, or ends, with a briefing about what to expect the next day. Here, you receive maps, a day sheet with information about what you will see, what you can visit along the way, and where lunch and coffee stops are best. You also receive safety information — where you may have city congestion, various road hazards like construction, or weather updates. This will help ensure your bike ride goes more smoothly.

Bringing the luggage down in the morning

Every morning, just after breakfast, the departure routine begins: Finish packing up and schlepp your luggage down to a central location in the hotel lobby so it can be transported to the next hotel for you — depending on your trip. Some of course will have intermediate days where you base out of the hotel and do loops.

Getting the bike fitted.

Bike fitting, such as Michael here working with guide Jessica, typically occurs at the beginning of the trip, but each morning, before you saddle up and depart, a guide is always available to help with any bike adjustments, fine tuning, and other maintenance that might need to happen.

Making sure the tire pressure is right.

A daily routine, along with the requisite safety check to ensure your bike is ready to go, is checking tire pressure. No sense pedaling off on tires that are too soft – that’s just more work than needed and inviting a flat tire. (Colorful gear always a plus, too, as Michael is showing off!)

Daily lunch and snack buffet.

There are almost always plenty of lovely local cafes and local stores for refueling along the way, but packing along a few snacks is always good in case you hit a low on a long stretch without options. These are laid out each morning and available during the day too at specific stops so grab some munchies to stash.

Luggage down and bikes lined up.

Each person is responsible for attaching his or her own bags and any additional lights, and getting the bike ready to ride to personal taste. Here, luggage is awaiting loading into the van, and bikes are lined up in various stages of readiness. And don’t forget to turn on your lights that are already on the bike.

As we ride off to enjoy the day, the last task for the guide is loading the van — the same van (i.e. sag wagon) that will appear at various points along the route to help with adjustments, let you restock snacks and drinks, play rockin’ music on long climbs, or just give you a hip-hip-hurray. Or, yes, give you a lift if needed.


Saddling up and pedaling down the road

Danube river bike pathway marking.

One popular bike tour, as the one we did with ExperiencePlus!, follows the official Donau Radweg (Danube River Bike Path) for as long as you want — our was two weeks from Regensburg, Germany, to Budapest. But other bike tours may exclusively follow roads, or a combination of bike paths and roads.

Chalk marks the way on an ExperiencePlus bike tour.

ExperiencePlus! tour guides mark the route with chalk. A guide departs an hour or more before the group does to set it for you, as Ilaria does here prepping for a city departure from Vienna — definitely more complicated than departing from a small village!

Having a map is important on any bike tour.

ExperiencePlus! relies on chalk to help guide their clients along the route each day. Chalk leaves you feeling quite independent to take as long as you want or stop when you please, and still feel quite secure in not getting lost. Other bike companies use GPS or maps or a combination of both to help their clients find the route, or they use a guide to keep the group together. Having been on two other ExperiencePlus! bike tours, we love the chalk method for allowing a rider to travel at his or her own pace (and other riders who have gone on tours with other companies told us they loved it as well). However, no matter what method is used, having a map with the route marked on it, as well as emergency mobile numbers for the guide and destination hotel is essential. Although rare, chalk marks can disappear in downpours or get missed when enjoying the scenery. Michael once went 28 kilometers off course in Croatia when he was having too much fun riding and not paying attention. Since he had a map, he was able to let the guide know where he was so they could pick him up, preventing a long and lonely nighttime ride. We rode in a thunderstorm with spotty heavy rain and some light rain and that actually sets the chalk up — never a problem to follow.

Morning departure in Vienna demanding navigating many pedestrian crossings and street lights, and avoiding morning commute traffic. Riding safely and alertly is essential to making sure any bike tour is full of smiles. Our group in these cases opted to stay together during departure to ensure everybody got out of town safely.

Most any bike tour will involve some “alternate” transportation to get you and your bike to where you need to go. Here, Michael is awaiting the arrival of a special “bike ferry” on the Danube River! The skipper works this ferry half the year and loves the chatter with guests.

No matter what sort of bike tour you are on, you will likely encounter other bike riders on their own adventure or a daily commute. And, you will be on roads where obeying the local traffic laws, just as a car would, are required.

Crossing country borders on bike tours.

Some bike tours will follow routes that cross country borders. The Danube River bike tour we enjoyed with ExperiencePlus! (note the chalk mark welcoming us to Austria) started in Germany, crossed into Austria, and then Slovakia, before entering Hungary. An exciting four-country ride that is extremely popular due to changing cultures, scenery, languages and food.

Changing a flat on your bike.

Never changed a flat before? Chances are, if your bike tour is long enough, you will earn the opportunity to do just that. The bikes come equipped with a few tools and a spare tube. Which is why, on your safety check each morning, you need to be sure you have the spare tube and tire irons packed in your bike bag, along with a working bike pump attached to your bike frame. Not feeling confident? Other riders will likely help — or of course you can also call the sag wagon.

Sure, you can hope for perfect weather along the entire trip, but chances are, weather (heat, wind, rain) will happen. Just be sure you are prepared for it with jackets, gloves, scarves, etc. — and pedal on. Here, a chilly September day and a little rain did little to dampen our group’s spirit as we readied ourselves to head off along the Danube from the Hotel Devin in Bratislava into Hungary. Bright colors as always!


It’s not all about riding the bike

Chalk marks are used to point out places to stop along the way.

Here, an artistic powdered chalk mark designates a recommended coffee stop (see the steam from the top of the cup?). It should be noted that the chalk ExperiencePlus! uses is designed to disappear after only a day or two so it is quite environmentally sound.

Coffee stops are a gathering point.

Coffee stops are often a regrouping point, as the faster cyclists as well as those who are enjoying a more sedentary pace (or simply stopping to more fully enjoy the sights) often meet up to swap stories and check in with each other. These are often predesignated points where you can meet up with the guide driving the van too — and they may join you for a spot of caffeine.

Enjoying a pastry snack along the Danube River.

When you visit a local European bakery in the morning to pack along a selection of amazing pastries, a picnic stop later on a bench alongside the Danube River to enjoy the delicousness is called for. YUMMMM! Looks like lunch to us!

A picnic lunch on bike tour.

Lunches are typically on your own, which allows you to pick and choose when and where you will eat — or for how long. But sometimes, as was the case here at an historic open-air museum, an organized lunch is planned. Great refreshment with local goodies. Now you just have to get moving again!

And then there’s a small meal upon arrival: A local beer, some tasty potatoes, and a flavorful salad was our lunch choice in Tata, Hungary, enjoyed sitting at an outdoor table, next to the large central lake, in the warm sun, watching rowers paddle by.

Goat by the side of the road.

Guides also have a sense of humor … evidenced by this “helpful” chalk mark pointing out a roadside goat.

Lots of sites to see along the way on a bike tour.

Along the bike route beside the Danube, there are frequent opportunities to visit historic sites, including churches, cathedrals, ruins, concentration camps, war memorials, small historic villages, and more. When on an organized tour, time in each is limited (never more than an hour or two) as one must keep pedaling in order to arrive in time to enjoy the chosen destination for the evening. Such is the life of a bike tour — you pedal to see things, but you must pedal to arrive too. It’s like a little taste of the areas along the route, and then you get to decide where you want to return to and spend a few days on another vacation!

Securing your bike.

At most locations where you need to get off and leave your bike to visit a site, there are bike racks to secure your bike (or maybe fences and rails!). Since rear bags remove easily, it is a simple matter to attach a strap and presto, the bike bag becomes a shoulder bag to ensure you keep your valuables with you.

Enjoying the view from Walhalla.

After a short walk (the reason you want to be sure your bike shoes are suitable for walking, too), we were able to take in the views from Walhalla in Germany, just outside the town of Regensburg.

Castles, churches, cathedrals, museums and more.

Dumont and Rocky especially love studying the 3D models of various historic sites and villages every place we visited while bike touring in Europe. Here, they sit in the Royal Castle in Esztergom, Hungary.

So much to see, so little time. In Dürnstein, Austria, in the fertile Wachau wine region, we got up early to be able to enjoy the sunrise and view from the castle ruins above the village — where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned in fact. Short but very worthwhile excursion, before racing back down to grab breakfast and pedaling off again.


Hotel arrival is a reason to celebrate

 

Pedaling into Bratislava

The view as we pedaled into Bratislava — WOW, look! This is motivation enough to hurry out of bike clothes and into something to walk around town to visit as many sites as possible in the few hours of daylight remaining before a group dinner.

Hotel arrivals are reason to celebrate

Arriving at the hotel for the evening, after pedaling 60 to 100 kilometers, was always reason to celebrate. Especially when it was after an uphill jaunt away from the river, as it was here in Bad Kreuzen. Knowing the hotel was wonderful, and the city or village we were staying in was filled with historic sites to see simply made the smiles more broad. Now, if only someone else would do our daily laundry, we’d have more time to get out and see things.

Hotel rooms are fantastic and have a great view if you are fortunate.

Hotels range from historic, to modern, to something in between when you are bike touring in Europe. Each hotel on our tour along the Danube River boasted its own unique charm or attraction. Here, in Bad Kreuzen, our hotel — a wing added on to an old castle or “Burg” — was clean, and sleek, but the view out the front window? A million dollars!


Off the bike and relaxing

Dinner atmosphere is frequently stunning

Dinners together are frequently in wonderful local restaurants and, as was the case in this Dürnstein, Austria, establishment. They leave you appreciating not only the food, but also the atmosphere, the view, and local cuisine.

Sampling delicous food on while bike touring in Europe.

When bike touring in Europe, food is typically local, often presented with fantastic flair, and most always delicious. Here, duck with plum compote, plum gelee and hand-rolled noodles.

Dinner cruise in Budapest on the Danube River.

One of our ExperiencePlus! guides, Jessica (left) talks to a participant Cheryl (right) about the menu selections on our last night –a delightful dinner cruise along the Danube River in Budapest enjoying the lights of the city and, of course, a little celebratory bubbly.

Sunset in Tata.

Finding a few moments to relax, off the bike, taking in a sunset in Tata, Hungary. Sigh….


Making new friends

Rocky meets Pinkie on a ferry across the Danube.

If you leave yourself open when you are bike touring, the opportunity to meet new friends can happen when you least expect it. Here, Rocky (one of our stuffed companions) meets Pinkie, the traveling companion of Jasmin, 10, who was also bike touring along the Danube with her mother and father. We happened to see Pinkie peering out of her mother’s daypack while on a ferry crossing, made a comment about our own stuffed friend and, next thing  you know, they are playing together on the ship, much to the delight of other passengers.

Celebrating the journey along the Danube River.

Celebrating many new friendships forged over days of shared adventures, stories told over food and drink, and memories of hundreds of kilometers pedaled together. Thank you, til next time, and may the memories last a lifetime.


What you should know: ExperiencePlus! Bicycle Tours provided us with complimentary land cost for the Danube River tour. Despite this, we maintain complete editorial control when working with any tour company or tourism board. All photographs, videos, descriptions and opinions in our articles are our own and are in no way influenced by sponsorship or trip discounts.