These were written as we were still travelling, so are our feelings at the time. We’re now back in the UK and doing the laundry, servicing bikes and planning a four day trip as neither of us will have any work in the very near future!
We set out with high hopes for riding the Trans Euro Trail and to be fair, the trail as a whole has been fabulous. Well done to John Ross and the team for all the work they’ve put into it. It is the essence of the ethos of ‘working together’ that has brought the whole thing together in such a short time.
For me personally, the route has been an education as well as an enjoyable bike ride. I’ve seen a lot of countries I hadn’t been to before and because of that I’ve seen a lot of things that have both changed some of my points of view and also cemented some other points of view. I'm really looking forward to see the changes that will happen to the TET as more people get involved and add more information. It'll continue to grow and who knows where it will take us, but one thing is for sure, a lot of people will benefit from this open source information and the trails will see a lot more riders!
Eastern Europe was amazing, the riding was superb, challenging and interesting at the same time. The countries were both a little similar to each other and yet always different. The people were always generous and pleasant, offering help whenever needed or not needed and always happy to see us pass through their country as a visitor and as a rider. Romania & Montenegro were our favorites, with Albania and Bulgaria very close behind. The roads are often dirt roads which are still in use on a daily basis, the pressures of daily life are more basic and people still talk to each other in a friendly way with an open greeting first, then some chat before moving on your way. As an example, we chatted with various shepherds on the hilltops in all these countries and was invited into someone’s hunting hut for coffee as we passed by. Language issues were only a small barrier to just sharing information in a friendly way. Internet access was really easy to find in most places, except Albania, which just doesn’t have the infrastructure as yet. A lot of the journey reminded me of being in Asia or Africa.
Western Europe... The riding was sometimes great, with amazing views and trails, however there seems to be more flatter simpler trails and lots more tarmac roads. More often than not, we drove around in the van on the lanes and spent a lot of time avoiding the extremely busy holiday hotspots, which is understandable at this time of year. Various attempts to chat to shepherds doing the same job as their eastern counterparts was met with either a sullen look or we were just ignored, even the lads on the trials bikes, which seemed petulant at best. I feel Lucy is correct when she says that there are just too many people around and this has left us with the general feeling of being unwelcome in a lot of the areas and left us with a negative impression in general. There is a stark contrast between the friendly, open and positive vibe from the eastern countries and the opposite in the west.
One of the best things we’ve seen in the western sections is something that we think needs to be adopted in the UK. Clear and positive lane management with very clear signage about what is legal and what is not, even good enough for foreigners to understand! (For the most part anyway). Italy, France and Spain have all put in place some very good management processes, information boards for all users with relevant info about restrictions and cautions and relevant signage. An ‘inclusive’ management process instead of an ‘exclusive’ one. From what we saw, the majority of people adhered to the principles as well.
In all of the countries we travelled through, we have had interaction with the police at some point, regular roadblocks, borders, customs etc etc. In almost all of the times these have been positive and even friendly, with the eastern teams waving us through a lot of the time. The western ones included pulling us over off the motorway to check for illegal immigrants/drugs in one case or just directing us past incidents etc. The Spanish were the worse and the most visible, miserable and sullen as they took money from everyone they stopped, no matter what the cause.
Ironically internet was much harder to find in the western countries too, although when you did find it, it was faster to use.
To end on a positive note, both Lucy and I have aspirations to ride more of the TET, we haven’t travelled much in the northern parts from Hungary upto the Arctic Circle, so maybe when we have some spare time and cash that can be on the agenda. I also still want to ride the Portugal section and of course both of us want to ride around the world for a few years!
Again, a huge debt of thanks is owed to both John Ross and the TET Linesman for their unstinting work and efforts. Lucy & I tried to meet up with a couple as we went by, but for various reasons things never seemed to work out, maybe another time. In the meantime for us, it’s a few days riding in France with some friends around Limoges and it’s surrounding areas, then a return back to the UK with the need to recoup some finances and plan the next bit of riding fun!
Some personal thoughts & questions...
It seems to me that the price of living in a country where things are ‘modern, safe and easy’ is the need to accept the majority opinion of the democratic process, no matter what that is or how biased it may seem to an individual. It also means that the financial setup of that country has to be spread across a lot more areas so things cost more. With the ever increasing regulations to control the ever increasing populations, more ways of taking earned money from the citizens and just more pressure to conform all the time I can fully see why, in the last few years, there have been more British citizens leaving the UK than the immigrants coming to live there. I’d be surprised to find that isn’t the case for several other ‘developed’ European countries too. Maybe history is repeating itself again as more people move south and east to find a more relaxed way of life? Democracy is a great thing, capitalism is a great thing, but at some point they have to be reset to achieve a balance that is fair for all and not just the greediest or the loudest.
A question that does recur in my thoughts as I ride along is ‘Why are so many of the lanes being closed across Europe?’ I think there is more than one answer to this but the two main ones I feel are down to money & security. Borders and in-country security is always a priority for any government and it’s where a fair proportion of each person taxes go without a doubt.. Money, well, that’s on several levels, but governments, local councils & businesses would be the main places. You earn far more money from the skiing industry in one winter than from several years of ‘off road’ folk coming through so who cares if you close that valley piste or that mountain piste so long as you can reap the financial benefits from the influx of tourism in the winter with the bonus that the utter destruction of the hillsides to achieve the desired skiing areas is also covered up by metres of snow for large portions of the year!
All of the countries we passed through also all have some form of huge hydro power systems either being built or already in place. These provide both water and electricity for the ever hungry needs of the growing populations across the earth, plus the income from all this. This is affecting the traditional dirt road infrastructure too, basically removing or limiting them as the valleys are bull dozed and the concrete poured. As mankind develops so our planet pays the price, just when will things hit a crisis point is the question or are we already there?
Phew, that is some serious thinking, I think it’s time to go ride my bike! ;-)