I prefer slow, immersive travel experiences. In the Summer of 2015 I went on my first trip to Europe, and tried out solo cycle touring. It was amazing and I found it very well suited for my tastes. Since then I have been on more cycling adventures in other countries and within India too. Writing details about these trips is time consuming and it typically happens only after the trip is over. Sometimes I get caught up with other stuff then it doesn’t happen at all. So, I have created this post to quickly jot down notes. As and when I write detailed blog posts I will link back here, so this becomes one big repository of my cycling experiences.
Also added articles on cycling gear, other logistical stuff and interviews with cyclists, they have been listed right at the end. All trips are solo unless otherwise stated. Continue reading
When I first started researching Europe for my first solo international trip last year, I looked at many countries France, Spain, Scandinavia…. But Germany wasn’t really a country I considered in particular. Then I zoomed into going on a long distance cycling & camping trip. This brought Germany into my radar. Because it is the best place to start out – keeping in mind the costs and infrastructure both. So Berlin it was! At the end of the trip it turned out to be the one European city I felt I had spent some time in (15 days) and it was awesome.
Before this trip happened, apart from it being some sort of ‘finance powerhouse’ and a hub for Cars – I had no other association with Germany. Except of course the holocaust crap that happened in WW2. And that was my main association with Germany. As I find with so many people at least in my Indian circle – Germany brings thoughts of Hitler, nazi and concentration camps. And here I was planning to cycle and camp in the countryside, solo! God knows how many concentration camp spots I would pass by on my own. Continue reading
Quite a while and I haven’t written much about my Europe trip. Lot of posts need to be written, a lot of people want to know about my expenses and budget and all that. Today I am more in the mood for prose, so writing about Day 1: Cycling Berlin to Copenhagen….
This was the day I was slated to leave my Berlin AirBnB homestay and cycle away! 😉
My home stay hostess was away traveling so I had the place to myself, we hadn’t fixed any time to leave, I wanted to be away as soon as I could, but I knew it will not be so easy. Because the 12 days I had in Berlin to buy all my gear and stuff were a bit less. So much so that, I had bought my camping gear just couple of days earlier and just the night before I had fixed the front pannier rack all by myself (beejesus!) Continue reading
Leaving Berlin to be on the road solo-cycling was a crazy feeling. The most unusual feeling was of not having a specific accommodation booked for the end of day. I was really thrilled but also curious how this trip would pan out. I cycled away chatting with strangers and getting attention as not only a solo cyclist but also an Indian one. Most people even in the most obscure towns recognized that I was Indian – I still don’t understand how considering they had never seen a solo Indian girl cycling. At many of the campsites that I stayed at, I was told that I was the first Indian to do so.
My first campsite Oranienberg Harbor was a beautiful, award winning camp site. It was on the banks of river Havel and this is the view across the bridge.
So as I reached my first award winning, heritage campsite – Oranienberg Harbor – I asked a German couple how to enter the campsite. I could see the site but there was a gate barring my way and I needed a card to enter it. The couple didn’t speak English. I anyway pursued the conversation by sign language. The lady was really affected and she started responding in sign language. It was not that tough. Basically I had to go to an office a little way away – I understood that I had to go in that direction. 🙂
There was a whole drama at the office because the harbor master was out and the auto-card-machine wasn’t working but finally I sorted all that out. I went back to the campsite and entered. I saw that couple relaxing outside their caravan. Looking around, I decided to put up my tent near them as the lady was really helpful and it was a good location.
So as I was setting up my tent nearby, the lady came around to ask if everything was fine. I didn’t understand much. I was really tired, smiled, sad ‘gut, gut’ and went to sleep. Snoooze.
This is how I camped my first night. It was really a sticky, warm weather. I checked the weather forecast and since there were no rains didn’t put the plastic cover.
I figured the lady found me quite an enigma – Indian, solo, doesn’t speak German – what is she doing out here! But since we didn’t know each others language, I thought it would be an end of it. But not so. The other day the lady beckoned me and starting asking me questions. I tried to answer cause I understand a bit of German. Since English & German have similar roots there are words that overlap….. but definitely not enough to actually converse. Anyway, she managed to find out that this was my first trip to Europe. I had solo traveled a lot in India which is very difficult but Europe is easy so I was doing this Berlin-Copenhagen cycling trip. She was really struck. She told me she respected me a lot. And then obviously she really wanted to talk.
So finally I decided to drop my reticence and get into this. This lady wants to talk German with me, well this is the 20th Century and I have the technology for this. I dug out my smart phone, known as “handy” in Germany and opened up Google translate. Yes, I had not researched any better app.
So out comes Google Translate – I started typing in English, translated in German and put it on audio so she could actually listen to it. She found it all quite interesting. It was then her turn to type – so she typed in German and translated to English. She wasn’t savvy with the phone but she managed.
So this way I found myself having some quite deep conversation with this German speaking lady using Google translate. It was pretty crazy. I was telling her about how the British occupation of India had caused so many changes in our cultural fabric that it was getting so tough to really gets things back on track. The fact that we need to know English – which is a foreign language for our economic growth creates a lot of challenges. Because the language of the person influences his/her thinking and so inevitably there is a conflict. Because in our culture and heart we are Indian while via Language and thoughts we are getting ‘Westernized’… this is probably because for many days I was tackling with this issue within myself. That how can Indian culture and the Western influence in urban areas be sorted out? She did find it a little intriguing…. as she didn’t understand such a thing. The German people have no issue of corroding culture as in most of those European countries their own language Rules!
Anyway the conversation just went to all sorts of topics. And yes, Google translate was quite a limited tool I wish I could have found a better one but it was a really worthwhile effort. This lady who would have been just a helpful German lady became a Travel Friend.
Next couple of days we didn’t get much chance to sit down and talk again because she fell sick, probably got a sun stroke but she always watched out for me. Just before I was leaving she came to meet me and gave me a shopping bag to take with me. In case I wanted to shop anything. 🙂
German lady gave me a small bag for shopping as a parting gift 🙂 I in turn told her I will write to her from India so share her email. This is a big thing for Germans as they are paranoid about giving out personal information.
I asked her if she had an email id I could write to, so we can keep in touch. She went to ask her husband for one, but he got completely freaked out. I was just mildly curious – what’s this now?! I thought it was standard to exchange contact info with friends on the road 🙂
Anyway she came back some time later and got me her address. So I will be writing her a letter now… but I wanted to blog this story before that. I meet so many people on my road… I would like to keep such stories to read through later on. Hope you also enjoy reading. 🙂
I later found out after meeting more German people that they are completely paranoid about giving personal information – in fact that is why a lot of them are not on Facebook or any other social network. So this is why her husband freaked out when I asked his email. Hehe.
And in case you are wondering – no I didn’t get any photo with her. I am a very reticent photographer and I really don’t click selfies.
One of the most scenic rides on the Berlin Copenhagen route – from Zehdenick to Furstenberg Havel
Ride 3 from Zehdenick to Furstenberg Havel. One of the most scenic routes so far. A little overwhelmed with the beauty and solitude on the road – hunger was a constant companion (because I was keen on an early start so left without eating anything). I pulled in for food at this little town called Himmelpfort. No major reason to stop here but cafes are not so common when I am cycling only 40 or so km daily. So I stopped at this cafe which seemed very popular in this town of Himmelpfort.
Vaguely I remember seeing some Santa Claus banner while entering but didn’t pay much attention – though it was odd to have christmassy stuff in the month of August! Anyway, I proceeded into the cafe – and then the big Q was: what am I going to eat? I told the lady at the counter – Vegeeeetaaarish.
I want Vejjjjeeeeetaaarish food. Veeegaaan? Vegetaarish?
*She tells me some dish names in German*
Does it have egg? No egg. Vegetarish with no egg.
ehh, … Yes, egg!
Errr….moment. *shouts something in German into the kitchen*
I am just standing around. Wondering whether I have been dismissed. Usually ‘moment’ means ‘one moment’ So I am waiting. Then thankfully another German lady comes to me and she knows decent English. Phew. She suggested me a potato dish. Apparently it was just potato n cheese.
I ordered it. This culture of eating cheese like a main course item is very unusual for me because in India we consider it fattening and somewhat unhealthy. Paneer (cottage cheese), Ghee, Curd are all considered healthier. However cheese is like a staple in many of these European countries. So here in Himmelpfort, I found a typical German vegetarian dish which I had quite often on the road – Potatos & Cheese!
Veggie meal for the day. Potato & Cheese. Delicious but not as filling as I would like.
Ginger Ale – my staple
Finally feeling a bit satiated and guzzling down couple of Ginger Ales I decided to inquire into that Santa Claus postcards & banners I had seen earlier. Now this is an interesting conversation,
“Why do I keep seeing the Santa Claus here? For eg on this postcard?”
“well, you know this is Himmelpfort! This is where Santa Claus lives”
*Feeling like fish floundering without water* “Err what do you mean ‘lives’ here”
“Well you know as the legend goes…. this is where he stays. When kids want to write to the Santa, they all address it to Himmelpfort!”
“Err what about North Pole?”
“Err Nothing…. *stunned*”
“You know Santa lives right behind this cafe. This is where he reads his letters and even replies to them”
*Finally coming around* “Aah that is interesting, I will definitely go and see it 🙂 “
Bought one of the postcards as keep sake from Santa’s town. At least the German Santa’s town 😉
You know often exposed only to the ‘western’ media which originates in US or UK we assume things are a certain way. But when traveling other countries, things are different.
In Germany, Santa is from Himmelpfort and who can say otherwise?!
Santa’s coat hung in his room
So I went and visited the lovely Santa cottage. A colourful room with a nice big veranda. Surrounded by green wilderness. In the near distance there was a big lake and boats. Families were picnicking there, I could here the sounds of kids laughter and water splashing.
Green acres around the Santa cottage with a Lake nearby and
In hindsight I think I should have inquired more into this activity but I found a very interesting article and I am so happy to know that this whole culture has humble routes.
Vegetarian is Vegetarish in German and Vegetar in Danish. I used these words frequently on my Europe trip, along with actions saying ‘No Egg’ too. Because Vegetarish includes Egg, while we Indian vegetarians don’t have egg.
Some kindly soul suggested that it would be easy for me to get a vegetarian Pizza. & it is one of my favourite dishes. 🙂
Sometimes I would pick a non-veg pizza and ask them not to put the non-veg toppings but usually even in the smallest towns they have a ‘Vegetar Pizza’ for us vegetarians. I found it simpler to order this rather than ask to change toppings because there is some language problem and I didn’t want them to be confused about what is supposed to go in the pie!
In Germany I first came across the idea of potato as a topping on the Pizza – the Germans not just love Potato but they consider it a main food item like rice or noodles.
So in a witch-themed cafe in a little German town, I had one of my first Vegetarish Pizza,
Carrots on Pizza along with a whole bunch of stuff – capsicum, onion & I believe some potato as well. So filling and crazy!
So if you thought that was as elaborate, it gets better, check this one out. It has over 6 ingredients including pineapple, mushrooms and artichokes. I would never have imagined such combos!
Pineapples, artichoke, olives, onion, mushrooms & maybe some more
I usually had only one big meal a day, so such a filling pizza was worth it. Couple of pieces would generally be left over so I would pack it and have it as a second light meal later.
The one below was at a little town called Faux Ladlepads in Denmark. The Italian restaurant was run but a guy from Kurdistan. Usually when people mention a country I know something about it – but I knew nothing about Kurdistan except that the people there are called Kurds. ;D
He barely knew English, so I just pointed at Vegetar pizza & fries to place order. & like a typical vegetarian I confirmed with him few times “It is vegetar, yes? – no egg, no meat, no fish…”
Artichoke, Mushrooms, Capsicum & the whole drill 😉
Once in a while, I did opt for simpler toppings – just to get a feel of normalcy. Like this one – I just asked them to remove the non-veg topping. So I just got some mushrooms on it.
Mushrooms – I missed the crazy toppings on this 🙂
Thought I had seen every possible topping…. but no…
Some tea & Ricola Pizza….
Oh Yea baby, we got some leaves…..
Is it a salad, is it a tree… no it is a Pizza! 😀
Ricola Leaves, Tomato slices and few other toppings. Yea, Who’d have thought leaves on a Pizza! 😉
I now miss being surprised with such eclectic pizza toppings.
I also gave it a serious thought – why are the toppings so bizzare?
Considering that ‘vegetarian’ is something new in this culture – I guess they still haven’t got the idea that being ‘vegetarian’ doesn’t mean we just eat a bunch of vegetables. Vegetarians can be picky about the vegetables they eat. This is how a chef at one of the pizza places described the vegetarian Pizza – “Oh you know, it has a whole bunch of vegetables on it like zucchini and eggplant.” Oh yea that is what I got…
Truly, a whole bunch of vegetables on the pizza! 🙂
Also, they are trying to make it as heavy and filling as possible. Because they may probably feel like “Oh no meat… what do these poor dears eat?? Let’s put some potatoes and artichoke and pineapples and mushrooms and …… ”
I had spoken to cyclists here in Mumbai, got their tips. Also researched online. It is important to have clarity on what type of gear you need and things to check before buying. (I will be sharing my notes on gear for a long distance cycling trip a bit later)
So here is a summary of the various ways to search out good, recommended shops to actually buy the gear,
1) Thorough online search – “budget cycle in Berlin”, “used cycles in Berlin” and so on
2) Join relevant FB groups n communities – I joined biking Berlin groups, but didn’t get many suggestions there. It is still a good place to have discussions and share your experiences
3) Talk to locals – I contacted the owner of a Facebook Berlin cyclers group, got some of his thoughts. I also spoke to my AirBnB host and got views there as well. It helped.
4) Talk to local shops and get their recommendations – This is another way to get in touch with local enthusiasts, these people know the industry really well and so should be able to help. Sometimes it helps to talk to them to rule out options. For eg: To sell my cycle in Copenhagen I went about asking cycle shops whether they knew anyone who would buy it. Most refused. One person gave a very low offer – so I ruled out selling back to shops.
The place I finally bought my used bike – I didn’t see it mentioned in any group or web search. I got to know of it, as a recommendation from another cycle shop which was selling new bikes only.
So using the above three methods I shortlisted these places for used bikes in Berlin, Bike Piraten – this is where I got my bike. It would be my first stop next time I go there to get cycling gear
Getting help at Bike Piraten. Just before I left on my trip. Stefan (in the pic) and Alexie know English – it was good fun working with them to get my bike ready 🙂
Bikers park – also had good deals and are reliable Mauer park flea market – apparently low quality (and possibly stolen) but if you get a good deal then you can really reduce your expense. This flea market takes place only on Sundays, and it was canceled the week I was there due to stormy weather. So you have to keep back up options.
Cycles for Sale at Mauer Park Flea Market, Berlin
Facebook groups where people put up stuff to sell – this is how I sold my stuff – the flip side is that you have to keep waiting to find the right product. For me, I needed a smaller cycle size. This was quite difficult in Europe – so groups like this are not the best option eBay Berlin – didn’t see much quality stuff here. And overall I find such places a bit shady to be honest. Maybe some good deals… I don’t really know. But I would prefer the above options over eBay. At least on Facebook I can check the persons profile information before meeting them
Once you explore all the above options, you will start getting ideas and recommendations to get rest of the cycling gear as well. These are some places I would mention in Berlin, Stadler – huge showroom n has some decent budget stuff as well. Helpful staff and a section where you can repair your cycle yourself
Stadler Berlin. I really enjoyed seeing and buying in this shop. We can take our cycles inside and relaxedly find whatever we need. Few of the helping staff know English, but in the typical German way they listen to you and help you out as much as possible
Supermarkets like Lidl & Woolworth have some really cheap accessories – worth saving few bucks on. For eg: reflectors n vests
Mauer park flea market 🙂 You can get cycle locks at half the price
Apart from these there are also many small bike shops which sometimes have sale… So those can be checked out..
Again followed a similar search process for camping stuff. I managed to find an online blog that had listed down shops that had good camping gear. I checked out all their online websites and figured out the most relevant shops for me.
Camping gear varies a lot depending on your trip details. For eg festival tents are cheaper but they wouldn’t be right for my trip. Other problem I faced is that while I could see many 4-5 people tents on eBay, there were none for 1 person or even 2 persons.
Also since I was a real camping newbie I figured going for cheap, new stuff would be better than buying 2nd hand and not realizing when there is something wrong with the tent or sleeping bag.
So finally I found these shops, Real.De – is a supermarket with a camping section.
Real Supermarket – Camping rack
Camp4.De – has some good options. I didn’t visit them though. MontK – this is where I bought my tent & sleeping mat n cooking kit. I got a 2 persons Coleman tent which cost me €85 as it was the cheapest decent camping tent. The single person tent was over € 100.
Tent just after some light drizzle
People in many of these shops were very helpful & they have thorough knowledge of what they are selling… In fact Thomas from MontK gave me so many suggestions about my trip – it was like a summary in 30 mins of all the research I had done online over many hours.
If you are a newbie then I think it is good to go to these respectable stores and get the person to give some gyaan (advise) – as they are really experienced people.
All in all my experience in Berlin was great. Through this trip gear-buying I got in touch with many people and came to know a bit about their culture. 🙂
So yes this big trip happened. *Pinches myself to wake up* ;D
After planning on paper and speaking to select, relevant people to get insights and tips I was off to make this trip happen. I was concerned that there maybe a gap between all my research and what was needed on ground, but it went of fairly well. Of course last minute adaptations were needed, but managed.
There were many moments where I questioned whether I was taking up too much and can I do this?
But well, just keep plodding on – that I have realised is the secret to many things in life.
GERMANY – the country of choice because it is well cheaper, very cycle friendly and fairly flat – great combination for a first trip.
Berlin was where my base would be. I spent the first 12 days here to get my gear. Very hectic with a bit of city exploration added. 15 days would have been better.
I considered different routes,
– north coastal France, Netherlands & Belgium
– Berlin, Dresden to Prague
France didn’t seem to have adequate campsites in that region. Czech wasn’t that cycle friendly. And overall none were feeling right.
Came across the Berlin – Copenhagen route, felt right. Fits in with my plan to keep Berlin as base of this trip. It would take me to Denmark & I totally wanted to cycle in Scandinavian countries. I would also love to visit Copenhahagen! So Berlin to Copenhagen it is!
Transport back from Copenhagen wasn’t the easiest and there were many other difficulties bit I think any route would have some difficulties and so I went ahead researching it more.
Bikeway Berlin – Copenhagen is an official international travel route:
They have identified three sections,
Brandenburg – Germany
Mecklenburg – Germany
Eastern coast of Denmark
You can of course find lot of info on the website… They split each section into day wise trips ranging from 35 km to 70 km. For most avid cyclists in Europe this distance is fine.
However, I chose to do a cycling trip as a slow traveler – I love cycling but am not really an avid cyclist. I planned to cycle just abt 30 – 40km a day. So the stops I took and daily coverage was lot different. I often stopped at a place for many days, just absorbing the camping experience and cycling around in the nearby town.
The daily stops would also depend on the accommodation.
Accommodations can be managed with,
Campsites – in which case you need camping gear but on the upside you can be entirely impromptu
AirBnB/Couchsurfing – this can be budget but needs planning on the road
Hostels/Hotels – this may not be budget as the route touches many small towns. Also you would need to book in advance to get better deals.
The advantage of camping or keeping accommodation impromptu is that it allows you to be flexible. When cycling, your plans change. Depending on the weather or your health or some other factor you may not be able to cycle the planned distance.
I camped almost all the days as it let’s me be impromptu and budget.
So here is how I covered the entire route and some brief notes,
Ride 2: Oranienburg to Zehdenick/Zielegar Nature Park (~45km)
Lovely route by river Havel. Towns Liebenwalde and Zehdenick – really picturesque.
Ride 3: Zielegar Nature park to Furstenberg Havel (~45km)
This is when the route gets really scenic! I think this was one of best routes in the German section in terms of scenic and flatness… The later parts get a bit hilly.
Explored Furstenberg Havel (10km)
Shocked an Italian restaurenteer and got free drink. 😉
Ride 4: Furstenberg Havel to Wesenberg (~35km)
Route got hilly. Not much for experienced people – but I am not experienced!! In fact I didn’t know how to use gears on hilly. ;D
Spent two days at Wesenberg campsite & figured out.
Ride 5: Wesenberg to Waren (~65km)
Managed the hilly. On verge of enjoying. Took a “detour” which turned out to be a pot-holed mud path. The second maddest ride in the trip.
Explored Waren (10km)
Ride 6: Waren to Krakow am See (~50km)
Krakow am See again a lovely town. Had dinner at a lake facing restaurant 🙂
Ride 7: Krakow am See to Gustrow & Rostock (~20km)
Cycled to Gustrow. Enroute met some lovely and somewhat eccentric people including an almost-round-the-world cyclist. Spent some time here… So then decided to take a train from Gustrow to Rostock.
Explored Gustrow: 10km
& reached Denmark by ferry!
Ride 8: Gedser to Marielyst Strand ( ~20km)
A crazy ride from 7pm to 9.15pm on a windy night!
Ride 9: Marielyst strand to Nykobing Falsing (~20km)
Explored marielyst strand – award winning Denmark beach. Realised that here in Denmark I can have conversations with locals because they know English.. Unlike in Germany. Though this wasn’t true later as the area got more rural.
Ride 10: Nykobing Falster to Stubbekobing (~45km)
Great fun riding. Wind was picking up. I didn’t know what was in store for next day. So amazing scenery, can’t even say. But the best was yet to come! Oh yea n I didn’t get any food.
Rodvig to Store Hedding (~15km)
& a train back to Copenhagen
Ending the trip was really difficult, but there were many practical considerations. I had to sell the cycle and camping gear because I couldn’t transport it back to India. The cycle was really good and I am still wondering whether I should have somehow got it back to India.
Camping gear I anyway did not want, I would like to buy better quality, if and when I am doing this again.
What a mad trip though, I absolutely enjoyed it.
I will be writing about the budget for this trip later, to give people an idea. I managed to sell my stuff later so the overall costs were really decent.
And here are some of the best trip pics, watch full screen! 🙂
Media Mentions: 🙂
Gujarati newspaper Janmabhoomi
Marathi newspaper Navakaal
*I am not sure of exact km cycled. It was about 500 to 550 km. My cycle computer stopped working and I didn’t track it via any GPS app. Just calculated roughly on basis of the kms given on the route site and using Google maps.
This was the most poignant moment in the entire cycle tour. Berlin to Copenhagen. 550 km in 17 days.
I was cycling as usual, in one of my initial days. Absorbing the experience, fresh and truly enjoying the solitude. Coasting down a small dirt road through German forest.
Green trees on either side and every now and then a field to break the monotony. In the middle of the dirt road were wooden spokes as dividers – demarcating the right and left.
All of a sudden an information board. I stopped to read – about the nature – flora and fauna maybe?
It mentioned how just a little distance away in the forest used to be the concentration camp for young women. The place was called Umbracke and the concentration camp was said to be a “youth welfare camp for young women”, but it was a concentration camp.
It was almost forgotten in the shambles of war and then the soviet mess. But later remembered and confirmed as a concentration camp.
For the length of the camp all the wooden spokes – road dividers – had a bright red dot on them.
I cycled on and kept passing these dots. Too many. So long , so big the camp area must have been.
Alone in the forest. The story of the once forgotten but then found and commemorated – Umbracke concentration camp for young women.
Near Furstenberg Havel.
This Ravensbrück concentration camp also has an official memorial and the guards building has been converted into a youth hostel – so now it really serves the youth! But the impact of suddenly coming across such a memorial – red dots on the road dividers – so subtle, but so poignant.