by Liz Mikkelson
Our trip through America (San Francisco and Boston), the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany and Italy lasted three and a half months. We took bikes as an alternative to using buses and taxis to get around at each of our destinations. Being in our seventies, we knew that sightseeing would tire us out in no time if we had to walk everywhere. It quickly became clear that we would need to purchase folding bikes, as ordinary bikes could not always be accommodated on trains and buses.
Facilities for bikes varied across the trains. Commuter trains had dedicated carriages, and the older trains sometimes had good spaces (for folding bikes only), such as space between seats or large baggage racks. However, sometimes the only space available was in the train corridor, or in the space by our seats. The fast trains, like TrenItalia, have large racks, but we had to be quick to get there before they were taken over by the "wheeled monster suitcase brigade"!
We had several hilarious experiences during our travels. When boarding the night train with couchette in Strassbourg, the conductor took one look at our couchette compartment and said, "You can close the compartment because no-one else will be using it". There were four bunks; our bikes took up all of the floor space
Between Karlsruhe and Strassbourg we had an unpleasant experience with the French train management. We were looking for a connection on the electronic board at Karlsruhe Station, and saw that there was a train ten minutes away. There was no time to book, and you don't always have to. Unfortunately, it turned out that this was a fast train, where seats must be reserved. We were on board by the time we realised our mistake, and while we pleaded innocence, that didn't cut any ice with the conductor. We were in for the 'naughty tourist' treatment: being made to wait in the corridor while various snooty conductors looked disdainfully at us interlopers as they passed. Finally they had time for us, fining us 46 euro before showing us to our seats.
The bikes were ideal for local transport wherever we stayed. In Denmark we made many trips of 20-30 km. In Rothenburg we made cycling excursions to have lunch in Wald. We cycled from Siena city to our farm stay in Tuscany with all our baggage, and cycled on gravel roads around Tuscany. The bikes were particularly useful in Copenhagen and Bologna, where we stayed at hostels located 6 km out of the city.
Now we are in Rome, and near the end of our trip. Cycling in Bologna, Firenze and Rome is a very different experience from cycling in Berlin or Copenhagen. In Berlin and Copenhagen there are cycle pathways, and motorist behaviour towards the cycling public is well enforced. In all of Italy, especially the north, we felt entirely safe to throw ourselves out into the fast and tumultuous traffic of buses, scooters, cars, pedestrians and other cyclists. Because of the chaotic nature of Italy's traffic, every single person on the road is alert and exceptionally forgiving of the actions of other road users.