Monday, 26 September 2011

More Route Notes

Alan's Boring Bits
Through Denmark, Germany, Czech Rep, most of Austria, and northern Italy we followed the EV7. A route full of interest and variety with some dramatic scenery and spectacular towns and cities. From a purely technical point of view, anyone who is looking to cycle this route and has read the criteria for a cycle track to be included in the Eurovelo 7 scheme will be expecting asphalt surfaces, no steep hills and continuous signposting. They will be disappointed. All countries had sections that conformed and all countries had sections that were almost uncyclable when laden with kit. Germany and Czech Rep were very fond of cobbles in all sizes. Gravel surfaces varied from dust to 5cm rocks but in the main were good. In Czech Rep. one section of a signed national route had a notice (on leaving) to say that the track was very dangerous and you used it at your own risk. Yet, in the same country, we also came across a 5km section of baby’s bum smooth asphalt with shaded stopping places, taps with drinking water and the only Eurovelo 7 maps we saw in 7000 kms. In Northern Italy, we cycled on one of the best tracks of the journey. A converted railway line where, at the entrance to all the tunnels, they had put sensors that activated the lights. This was immediately followed by the most undulating section of the ride with most of the ups and downs well in excess of 10%. Spotting shortcuts became an art but on this occasion we missed the quiet road that gently followed the valley floor below us.
It was impossible to rely on the signs throughout this part of the journey. Again inconsistency is the key word. It was not unusual to have no signs at one junction and, at the next, more signs than there were exits. Good maps /guides were essential but these were not always readily available and often could only be found in bookshops in the larger towns or cities. On the more popular sections of the route, a lot of touring cyclists had very detailed and voluminous guides.
In Northern Italy, we had to decide whether to follow the EV7 down the west coast or to follow the east coast down to Sicily. We chose the east and, in the main, it was flat and relatively easy cycling but with very few cycle tracks. Some sections in Northern Italy are worth repeating whole some in the poorer areas of Southern Italy are definitely worth missing (see blog). I suspect that the western side of Italy may have a lot more of interest. I look forward to reading about what we missed when Neil Gander gets round to completing the sequel to his book “Kök and Tvät” (Still the funniest book I have read in a long time and an inspiration to get on your bike and “just do it”).
Navigating the roads on the tip of Italy and Sicily proved more difficult than expected. On several occasions roads suddenly became motorways forcing us to take long, complex and unsigned diversions which invariably took us back to the same road only a couple of kms further on. In one instance there were no warning signs, only a diversion sign and a ramp onto the motorway with no way of going back! In Sicily, diversion signs for missing bridges and road works almost always took us back to the motorway.
When on the roads, drivers were generally courteous and, despite comments to the contrary, the Italian drivers were brilliant to the point of giving us so much clearance that they would drive vehicles coming the opposite way off the road.
Accommodation was not a problem down to Rimini and when we decided to stop for the day, we rarely had to pedal for more than 20km to find something suitable. Those looking to rely on campsites and budget accommodation will need to do a lot more forward planning than we did. Arriving in Rimini on the busiest holiday week end in Italy was a mistake. Every hotel, guest house and campsite prided themselves on being full for the fortnight. Further south and away from the coast many of the smaller hotels and b&b’s were closed for the holidays but the chain hotels were never far away. Every establishment made an effort to secure our bikes and trailers for the night to the point of one hotel giving the bikes their own room free of charge.
Malta was a disappointment as it does little to cater for cyclists. The road surfaces are in a very poor state and drivers in the main, are not cycle aware. Despite our flags, fluorescent jackets and flashing lights, we had more near misses in the 12kms from the ferry to the hotel than at any other point in the journey. The grating across the drive to our hotel was designed to swallow cycle tyres. So alien were cyclists that we were threatened with security as we approached the hotel entrance even though we had booked and arranged for our bikes to be stored. As with the rest of our journey, the majority of the people that we met were friendly and helpful but the only other positive I can find to say about Malta is the flight home. Excellent service from Air Malta and only £12 per bike. No fancy bike boxes were required. We simply had to remove the pedals, turn handlebars round and deflate the tyres.
Hope this helps if you’re planning a similar journey. Remember I’m a grumpy old wrinkly and many of the moans above proved really memorable highlights to our journey.  There were no major insurmountable traumas and when we needed help it was provided in abundance. We made business cards with a map of our journey and these proved invaluable in changing the perplexed look of the many people that we met into a smile and gushing words of encouragement.
Post a comment with your email address if you have any specific queries. I’ll do my best to help.
Overall a wonderful, wonderful journey.

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