Do and Do Not List seem to be popular these days, as reading has become somewhat of a lost art. Kidding. There are just not enough hours in the day to read elaborated written paragraphs, so I thought I’d try at least one point form list of travel via velo:
DO – updated your passport. If it looks like mine aka waterlogged, an over-read novel, a coffee coaster, you may have issues at the border of certain countries and they may try to deny you access. Not to name any names, Croatia.
DO NOT – Pet the wild life. This isn’t a zoo and certain animals that seem cute and cuddly, are most definitely not. Specifically DOGS. To you it may look as if some kind owner trusted his best friend to run around off the leash with a bunch of his pals. No. These are wild dogs. They want to eat you. Don’t let them eat you by using cutesy voices and trying to lure them to you with food. They will eat the food and then you are desert.
DO – Talk to people. Anyone and everyone is worth getting to know, whether briefly or over a pint. If language fails, beer never does. Humans, in general, communicate beyond language barriers with hand gestures, charades and laughter. It doesn’t matter if you can’t ask him or her about the adverse effects of the rise of neo-facism in his or her country. I shared a wonderful moment in Romania drinking with some Serbian priests and laughing at who knows what. You can have that much fun too, if you just keep open, listen and respond a lot. The worse thing that could happen is that don’t respond or chase you with a weapon of some sort. The second option, from my experience, doesn’t happen to much, unless that weapon is ice cream.
DO NOT – Be culturally insensitive. World War One monuments are not jungle gyms and religious icons aren’t photo ops for getting your cleavage pic with Jesus. Some people will tend to ignore you, even though inside their head they are running at you with a pick axe. Some may actually run at you with a pick axe. Not only does cultural sensitivity rely on your common sense, but it also begs you to learn a thing or two about the place you are visiting, so that you don’t blurt out something that is rude, disrespectful or in some cases, could have you trying to learn the phrase “not guilty” in a foreign language.
DO – Learn the traffic rules and regulations. They aren’t the same all over the world. In some places, bicycles rule the roads, yet in others cyclists live parelous lives in a world of no signs, lights or lanes. Only bike in areas that fit your comfort zone. Exiting that point blank may add unwanted stress, panic attacks and a silly mistake that could prove not good at all. I am not saying to challenge your comfort level, because that is a very important thing if you want to get anywhere besides your back alley, but always have an experienced cyclist with you, to spot you, talk to you, and lead you in the ways of pedal wisdom.
DO NOT – Click click click photos like it is part of some part of automatic, necessary response system. People always look so desperate to capture moments and will do pretty much anything they can to get that right shot. There are a few problems with this. The first, being, that while you may have captured the image of a moment, and even color corrected later to the proper exposure and tone, a camera has no functional quality in capturing the feeling of a moment. Since you are taking the picture, you also reduce your chances of just being in the moment, taking in the smells, feeling the gentle breeze at the top of the Eiffel tower, really admiring a piece of art, nature or architecture. You then can only remember the moments in between the pictures and nothing beyond the pint size image your glued to in your view finder. And to be honest, the awful truth to some who think they are taking the most unique photograph the living earth has ever witnessed, will be distraught to realize that millions of pictures have been taken, from every angle you can think of, of all historic monuments, natural phenomena and other tourist interest points that you visit. I recommend being selective of what you shoot, because later, when you are sifting through your 8 billion photos, thanks to the digital age of mass proportions of knowledge, the images will quickly stream by with little care to what they were and are. Take photos of things that spark your interest, details, funny people, human moments, friends doing things, meals, a non-tourist destination. Those are the moments that you can use photos to jog memories, but again, they can never replace them.
DO – Explore. Seems simple, but most people are drawn to the big signs that say “YOU MUST SEE THIS THING BEFORE YOU DIE” and then tend to ignore everything else. For me, I think it is important and interesting the see and understand a place beyond what the tourist bureaus tell you to go to. Go inside buildings that look fascinating, find out from locals cool neighborhoods, follow odd signs that catch your fancy, go beyond the map of the city centre, with all it’s advertisements for rip off restaurants and silly guided tours (not all silly, but sometimes they are substitutes for a lazy type of 5 star tourism that does not appeal to me).
DO – Couch surf. I won’t get into the grand scheme of couch surfing philosophy, but to get an in depth, personal and cultural experience that is unique to the individual perspective of the person you are staying with, this is the best way to go. This is the only way to be part of the local scene, go to the best local haunts, try the best local cuisine, see a slice of everyday life among thousand year old church spires and plazas. Maybe play golf in Lyons? Irish dancing in the Czech Republic? Who knows!.
DO NOT – Wear bike gear or purchase bike “stuff”, that you aren’t comfortable wearing or using. Okay, tools may be excluded from this, but clothing and pedal type and panier placement, that is all a personal choice. If you are going for 16 hours a day and you hate the sound of rain pants to the point that the swishing sound gives you a headache, chances are you should not wear them. The travel portion should be as just as much fun and stress free as the places you visit.
BE SPONTANEOUS! EAT NEW FOODS! MAKE FRIENDS! TALK TALK TALK! HAVE FUN! LAUGH UNTIL YOU ACHE!
We were rushing for the border. Day 3 and we were crossing from The Netherlands into Germany. And yet, our Dutch friends never ceased to amaze us. This museum sign is literally in the middle of nowhere on some back country road. Since of our hurry we never did get to check it out. Lucky for me, the internet let me have a second chance. PS, my friend biked all the way to Budapest, this being his only faux injury. No poles with museum signs were harmed during the taking of the picture.
The crash museum website:
Svoge. A town like many others where we stopped to enjoy the lush scenery for a few, idling moments, just enough time to catch our breaths and then we were off, down another hill or along the side of another mountain pass. Time is so crucial when you’re on two wheels and have some place to be. You can’t meander as much as you’d like to meander, you can’t bask as much as you’d like to bask. But it gives you a postcard, a reminder of where you’d like to return to. I’d like to return to Svoge.
After conquering a few days before of torrential down pour, that made it so the road and the sky were one, constant, grey, maniacal flood, it was nice to have a middle of the road weather day, not too hot, not too cloudy, not to wet. The Bulgarian country side was new to us as we headed through beautifully lush, jutting cliffs, switchbacks that seemingly played tricksters, luring you to plunge from wheel or panier first into the brown, slow moving Iskar River below. Towns like this in the Sophia province, seemed to appear out of no where around every bend, looking like small hamlets, yet a bit more sterile and grey in architecture. It was quite a surprise that the lead up to Sophia, the capital, was miniscule, off tune slide whistle, as opposed to a whole cavalcade of wind instruments, blowing, red in the face, with victory!