Adventure Travel: 2005-2006
Hiking in the Swiss Alps, skiing in the Dolomites, hut-to-hut backpacking, cycling in the Netherlands and more. There are lots of fun active adventures to enjoy Europe. What are your favorites? Share your tips and advice here.
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Back in 1998 I took the most amazing Fietstour in the Nederlands. Holland has different types of bicycle paths. There are those that run from city to city mostly along roadways. These have signs that point the way and tell you how many KM to your destination. Then there are the LF scenic trails. There are guidebooks for all, but at the time only LF1 is published in English. Fortunately, LF1 runs from den Helder to Calais, France down the coast in France.
This region is the heart of the Nederlands and the citadel of the Dutch revolt against Spain in the Eighty Year War 1548-1648. If you plan carefully, you can go off the path and visit Alkmaar and the Cheese Markt. For those of you who like to "burn the bud," be assured that every Dutch city has easily found coffee shops.
I only had time for two days of riding. So I booked myself a room at he Park Hotel in den Haag and left all but my bike and load there and set off early the next day for den Helder by train to begin my ride. Den Helder is the seat of the Dutch Navy and a shrimp baguette from a herring stand welcomed me as I began my ride.
You go over 3 huge dykes know as the Sleeper, the Holder, and the Guard twisting your way thru polders and dunes. I stayed overnight in Wijk an Zee at a resort hotel. The old innkeeper spoke no English, but pointed me to an open restaurant. I learned that this cozy bar and grill served outstanding satay. The couple next to me had driven over an hour from Amsterdam to partake. In October it was sparsely occupied, but I had gambled on good weather and won. For the best odds to beat rain go in May or June.
The next day I crossed the Ijmuiden by ferry in the morning. In the afternoon I was falling behind schedule to get to den Haag by nightfall. The meandering LF1 was slowing me down. I was hesitant to abandon my route for uncertain routes, but I had the ANWB fietskaarte and noted a beeline route just off the coast.
Sure enough, this bicycle freeway sent me cruising toward my destination at a 14-17 mph pace up from the 10-12 mph I was managing on the "nature trail". But a stop for lunch in Haarlem again set me back. Even then, I lost my race against dusk, but as I passed Leiden on my left, the streetlights lit my way into den Haag.
I also prefer to bring my own bike despite the difficulties involved in transporting it. The comfort, speed, and reliability of my Trek 1100 road bike with my computer and gear was a delight and proved to be a good conversation start with the Dutch as well. Rentals can be unpredictable.
I highly recommend this route. If worse comes to worse, you can always walk to a train station. I have been planning to do it again since I arrived in den Haag had a nice soak in a hot tub at the Park Hotel. Tot Ziens!
Chicago, IL USA Mon 11/27/2006
My boyfriend and I took a break from Barcelona to go to L'Estartit and took a snorkeling trip to Illes Medes. Total time was three hours or so and we got to snorkel with literally hundreds of species of pretty fish including jellyfish and octopus. The island is a sanctuary and the sea life is abundant and beautiful. Bring an underwater camera!
Dothan, Al USA Sun 10/01/2006
Greek Islands - Cyclades
If you ever go to Santorini (Thira) in the Cyclades Islands of the Aegean Sea off Greece, you MUST take a boat tour to the volcanic island to hike around the smoking craters and then the boat takes you around to another part of the island and you jump off and swim over to a hot spring for a relaxing dip in the pummice-like mud that people spread like peanut butter on their entire bodies. It surprisingly feels very good and has no odor whatsoever. And it's a lot of fun to smear each other with the brown goo.
Dothan, AL USA Sun 10/01/2006
I went on an trip this last summer to Europe with Contiki Holidays. One of the stops was in Austria, where we went white water rafting,and mountain bike riding. It was such a great outdoor experience. I am actually writing a blog on my trip, so go check it out at alfio-contiki.blogpost.com. It was unbelievable.
Tampa, FL USA Wed 09/27/2006
The train ride from Zurich to Innsbruck is beautifull. A stop at St Anton is very scenic, although it can be expensive to stay there. The Arlberg valley is gorgeuos anytime of year and is well worth a day or two.
Seattle, USA Sun 08/13/2006
Best of the Alps-sightseeing, hiking
For those who've visited the swiss/german/austrian alps, I looking to see what you'd reccomend for a short stay-approx 2days. I won't have much time to hike but I am interested in the scenic views of the alps.
Boston, Ma USA Thu 08/10/2006
Of all the hiking and backpacking opportunities in Germany's Black Forest region, I would like to describe the one I took last Sept. Unlike the highly forested trails of the Black Forest the Ortenaur Weinpfad winds its way mostly through the vineyards and orchards of the western edge of the Black Forest. I made my way by train from Frankfurt to Baden-Baden and spentthe night in the fine hostel there. Early the next morning I went to the local tourist information office where I was directed where to find the trailhead. The trail for the first couple of km was mostly uphill, forested and somewhat ho hum and I began to wonder if I made a good decision. Then as I came to the crest of a hill the landscape and scenery exploded before me. The forest opened up before me and I found myself on the upper reaches of the trail which afforded me a glorious view below and all around me of thousands of acres of vineyards. I instantly knew I made a good choice of hiking trail. The trail is 60 plus km, mostly paved, well marked and stays mainly on the upper reaches of the vinyards except when it takes you down into several villages along the way. It also takes you near castle ruins and quite a few religious shrines which are quite moving even to a nonreligious person like me. After that long first day I bedded down for the night in an orchard. The next day was just as glorious as the first. Towards the end of the second day after I passed through the town of Oberkirch I began to see signs directing me to Schloss Ortenburg. I headed in that direction and came across an old castle turned into a hostel. Awesome place. The following morning I went on foot down along the tractor lanes through orchards and gardens toward the town of Offenburg where I came upon a little train station where I caught a train taking me to my next solo adventure.
Sheffield Lake, Ohio USA Fri 08/04/2006
Rent a mtn bike in Flam and take the Flamsbana up to Myrdal. Ride 20+ kilometers back down to Flam on a winding road along the valley cliffs. Out of this world views abound along the way.
Seattle, USA Wed 08/02/2006
A vote for railpasses
I couldn't find a really proper topic to post this one under. I hope someone can move it to a better place. I am a firm believer in railpasses rather than point-to point tickets in most cases. Or at least, for my kind of travel. You just have to be creative in your trip planning, and take advantage of the fact that you can take some really strange trips that way. I am an avid railfan, and like to see as much scenery as possible along the way. 1)You don't have to stand in lines to buy your tickets. 2)You can often make far closer connections than you might be able to otherwise. 3)You can often see more of the countryside. With that said, let me describe a few rail journeys that one would not ordinarily consider. 1)A circle trip - Magdeburg-Dresden-Berlin-Magdeburg. This one was in mid-December, 1999. Obviously, days were short. It was also VERY cold (about -5 F). Turns out that there was a relatively early direct train from Magdeburg to Dresden on a route that bypassed Berlin on the east. I think we reached Dresden slightly before noon. Wonderful view up the river toward the palaces as one came into the station at Dresden. One should explore the Dresden Htbahnhof, incidentally. It was undamaged in WWI, in spite of many attempts at taking it out of commission. OK - it needs to be cleaned, but it one of the few (maybe the only one?) major German stations of the Bismarck period that has not been replaced by something newer and more modern. It's an architectural and historical gem! About 1 1/2 later, we took another direct train to Berlin. If I remember correctly, this one took us through Frankfurt (Oder), and into Berlin on what must have been the main route through East Berlin. Most of the trip through East Berlin was elevated, and we had a wonderful 'aerial' trip around nearly half the city. OK, it then started to get dark, and we got back to Magdeburg via Potsdam in the dark. Believe me, it was too cold that day to be outside more than about 10 minutes. So, what a great way to spend the day. 2)Here's another one. Carcassonne-Narbonne-Pergignan-Tour de Carol-Toulouse-Carcassonne. Try explaining that one to a person at a ticket window. 3)Vienna-St. Polten-Keinberg Gaming-Waidhofen an der Ybbs - Amstetten - Vienna. (You can't do this one any longer as the line from Keinberg Gaming to Lund am See is now closed.) The key is that if you want to see scenery, try to plan a circle trip. If one or more of your stops has enough time, then you may be able to explore a bit. If not, then you can at least probably figure out if you'd like to come back sometime for a more extended stay. (I definitely want to go back to Dresden, for example. I did go back to Waidhofen - check it out - it's a great place to visit - lots of mild hiking around.) How about Oxford-Newcastle via Reading and Bristol? The point is that with a railpass, how far you travel, what route you take, and the cost of the tickets is not an issue. Get a really good set of RR maps and a good website for timetables, and see what you can do. My favorite site for RR maps is http://bueker.net/trainspotting/maps.php. You can print them, and it's free. You don't have to be a trainspotter to make use of it. The DB site recommended is good for timetables. I also like http://plannerint.b-rail.be/bin/query.exe/en?L=profi& as it gives me somewhat different and additional information. I can find out is I can get from A to B in a reasonable amount of time on the second, and then can see what the route is on the first. I have never regretted getting railpasses in the nearly 40 years I've travelled in Europe. They've enabled me to see places I would never have thought of passing through. This Fall (November)I'm returning to Budapest with an Eastern Europe 5-day pass and a Hungary only 5-day pass. At present, I've planned a trip to Krakow from Budapest via sleeper, then a trip to Zakopane on the Polish side of the Tatras, followed by the return trip via Kosice in Slovakia via Zilina, which should see the Slovakian side of the Tatras. Then a day trip (maybe 2?)to Vienna from Budapest on the Eastern Europe pass. I know about 3 days on the Hungary pass, and am not yet sure what I'll do on the remaining two days. Be assured that I will find something interesting and unlikely to do with them. So - just be imaginative, if you like to cover a lot of ground and see a lot of scenery. And - you meet a lot of great people on the train. If anyone wants to contact me about some pretty hilarious experiences, I've included my email address.
Denver, CO USA Thu 07/27/2006
Self Guided Bike Trips
I would also like to promote self guided bike tours. There are companies all over Europe that will allow you to select from a number of packages.
How it typically works is that you rent the bike from them (We've used Iron Donkey in Ireland, Countrylanes in Uk and Discover France in France) which is your typical hybred touring bike. We usually buy gel seat covers for extra comfort and and take them in our luggage and just discard them at the end of the trip. Each company's bikes have been in excellent condition.
You are provided with detailed route maps that typically take you down back roads. Frequently the route will have optional sidetrips included. As Tony Boyd of Iron Donkey in Ireland said. "You have to take the Sky Road option. Its a bitofaclimb, but its worth it."
Routes are usually accuratly graded. If it says 'Easy', you will encounter few hills. We are in average shape and find that trips rated 'Intermediate', pose no undue stain. Daily rides will be from 20-40 miles depending on your choices and options.
Your lodging is arranged by the tour company, and in all cases, we have been put up at B&B's, Lodges, Inn's and small hotels that were never less than clean and acceptable and usually tended towards the 'what a lovely place' end of the spectrum. Your luggage will be picked up and transported to the next nights lodgeing so all you need to do is enjoy the ride.
Because you are on the less traveled road in smaller towns, the innkeepers always seem delighted to have your business. They may not speak perfect english, but if you have spent a few hours with your phrasebook, and take the first plunge, you will rewarded with the innkeepers best efforts. We've even had them call the local resturant and tell them to expect us and make sure we were treated like royalty. A very useful phrase to learn in resturants is how to ask your waiter what the local favorites are.
Because you are not traveling as group, and not in the big cities, you will find people will warm to you much quicker. We stayed at a small hotel in Ireland and originally the fellow thought we were with a big group and you could see he was expecting he would have to deal with an incoming crowd, but when we said "Others? No, just us." Suddenly our bikes got put in the nice safe shed, and he wanted to tell us all about the place.
In summary, the biggest benefit to self guided trips is that you travel in places where tourists are not unknown, but neither are they the day in and day out job for people. It also forces you out of your comfort zone, and makes you go to the local pub, trattoria, cafe, ect. You will encounter and converse with the local residents as a matter of course rather than as the occasional accidental encounter.
Must items to take? Good rain jacket, gel cover for the bike seat.
Racine, WI USA Wed 07/12/2006
Die Bahn for Europe rail connections
Planning a trip anwhere in Europe by train with or without a bicycle is easier if you use the German Railway site. It will suggest multiple connections for you and you will be able to see which trains accept bicycles. Neither Rail Europe nor SNCF or other country-specific sites on-line can come close to the convenience of Die Bahn. Of course, then you may have to go to Rail Europe or SNCF etc. to find the price and to book, but that is much easier if you know what itinerary works best for you. Link for English is http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en
GA USA Thu 06/29/2006
Self Guided Bike tours
The best way we've found to explore a country is not by train/car/bus...but by bike.
We bring our bike with us, find a self guided tour company that will transport our luggage from town to town, then ride.
Interaction with the locals, the views from the bike seat, and the joy of being on a country road sure beats lines at museums and churches. We get more of a flavor of a country this way.
Google "self guided bike tour" + the country you would like. Most bike tour companies will also offer a self guided version for less $$ and more FUN
USA Wed 05/17/2006
INTERLAKEN Switzerland,PARAGLIDING = Free INTERNET, or free bicycle,or free laundry,or free taxi! Hey, we figured out in interlaken,switzerland is a smal shop -if you book here the paragliding-they give you free: 1 hr internet,or 1 day free bicycle,or free laundry,or a free taxi coupon -by the way in interlaken the TAXI is cheaper as the public bus,if you are more as 4 persons
Interlaken, BERN SWITZERLAND Wed 03/01/2006
Amalfi Coast by Scooter
On a recent trip to Italy we spent four days in Sorrento. After looking at all of the options, we decided to rent scooters to tour the Amalfi coast. While riding a scooter may not be considered by some as "adventure travel", I can assure you that in this instance it definitely was! But, with a little common sense and an extra helping of caution, riding a scooter there can be a memorable and (relatively) safe experience. You have the ability to go at your own pace,pull over at the many scenic spots and find your own 'back doors'. And the views you get cannot be matched looking out the window of a car or bus. Just watch out for tour buses the size of small cruise ships coming around the curves; they tend to take up the entire road. We rode from Sorrento to Salerno and back, then out onto the penninsula, where we found many beautiful (and deserted) spots overlooking the Med and the Isle of Capri. We had a wonderful lunch at a cliffside restaraunt with an exquisite view; we were the only tourists in the place. None of this would have been possible using public transportation or tours. Rick lists two rental companies in his guidebook, both near the train station. Give it a try!
Tulsa, OK USA Tue 02/28/2006
Bikes on Trains
Just make sure you buy a ticket for your bike, and make sure you know which trains actually allow bikes...they all don't. Make sure you know which car the bike will go in....you cannot just put it in the car you are sitting in. Sometimes the bike/luggage car is in front of the train, other times middle, or even back.
Make sure you travel light luggage wise if you are biking...it's a huge hassle to get the bike on the train and luggage at the same time. Keep in mind trains don't wait in stations for very long. they have a schedule to keep, if they are running late, you have very little time to get on board...you best be ready when the train stops, cuz it's heading out again quickly! Have a plan with whomever you are traveling with...one of you can get on, then have the other person hand the bikes and luggage up to the other.
My husband and I have done 2 self guided bike trips in Italy...the above comes directly from our experience in Italy only.
CO USA Sun 02/12/2006
Bikes in Trains
A friend and I are planning on bringing our bikes to Europe this summer. Will we be able to bring our bikes on board the trains throughout Europe? If so, any tips?
Tampa, Fl USA Tue 02/07/2006
Nordic Walking is the newest fitness trend in Germany: my husband and I have been having a great time walking through the Black Forest. Nordic Walking is faster and more fun than walking, but not as difficult and painful as running. We're planning on taking our poles to Tuscany and walking to some of the hill towns this spring. Maybe this fall we'll do some great walks in Normandy.
Adventure travel doesn't have to be crazy, like mountain climbing in the Alps. Walking is an enjoyable way of seeing the smaller towns of Europe, and some amazing scenery.
Leki (google it) has lots of information about Nordic Walking, and I have found many tour books that talk specifically about walking in Europe (not hiking for elite althletes only).
If you think walking from town to town in the Cinque Terre is a wonderful idea (and it is, we had a great time last summer), you should definitely try Nordic Walking. Then make walking in France or Italy or Spain (Oh BOY!) your goal.
Stuttgart , BW Germany Sun 01/22/2006
Hiking in the Meiringen/Hasliberg part of Berner Oberland
This past September my husband and I spent 10 days in Meiringen with friends, hiking and enjoying the Swiss culture and food. We enjoyed a number of hikes in the area and would highly recommend staying here. It's not as expensive as the Lauterbrunnen Valley, but provides many of the same attractions: beautiful waterfalls, outstanding hiking, small villages, great views.
This area is easily accessable to the Brienz Rothhorn Bahn and its hiking trails (www.brienz-rothorn-bahn.ch), the fabulous open air museum Ballenberg, and great hiking in the Hasliberg, Rosenlaui, Grosse Scheidegg areas. Grosse Scheidegg looks down into the Grindlewald valley. A great website to find more information is www.alpenregion.ch.
I would also recommend taking advantage of some of the travel passes that make travel and entry to many of the sites a lot more affordable. There is an alpenregion pass for different lengths of time, and a Berner Oberland Regional-Pass for train/bus/boat/gondola travel (www.regiopass-berneroberland.ch). While there is no doubt that transportation is expensive in Switzerland, these passes, and others, can make it a lot more affordable.
Prince George, BC CAN Sat 12/31/2005
Self Guided Bike tours
Breaking away from a group bike tour is the only way to see Europe! We took 2 guided bike trips, and after the second one in Tuscany vowed "never again"
Why wait for a huge group and be singled out as American, when you can hop on your bike and have a great adventure on your own.
We hated the huge dinners, waiting for people in the group who got lost, or weren't trained for the ride. We hated having our meals planned for us. We loved getting lost and finding our own way. Talking to the people and feeling a part of the country!
my husband and I travel by tandem bike...have ridden for 15 years and bought a special S & S coupled bike just so we can take this type of tour.
our last adventure was on Sicily. a mostly ignored area of Italy. The people were so friendly, and it wasn't touristy like Tuscany and Amalfi and Rome have become. No "kitschy" souvenier stands, just down home friendly people.
of course now everyone reading this will want to go to Sicily, and I guess that's OK.
Just keep in mind that it's a bit dirtier than mainland Italy. The Sicilians don't "own" any thing past their front door, and they tend to just throw their trash on the road!
We toured the western end of the island...Monreale, Palermo, Erice, Trapani, Segesta, etc.
There is nothing like seeing a country from the seat of a bike!
CO USA Sat 12/17/2005
Chamonix hiking---flora and fauna
On a hike above Chamonix, on the Petit Balcon Sud, we stopped for lunch at a chalet we had seen from the valley---"La Floria". What a delightful place---the most incredible display of flowers I've seen anywhere, and a view across the valley to the Mont Blanc massif and Auguilles du Midi. Our waitress explained that it takes the staff 4 hours each day to water and groom all the flowers. While enjoying our lunch, we watched a tiny creature, like an impossibly small hummingbird (about 1.5 inches long) hovering and gathering nectar from the flowers a few feet away. The digital photos came out as a blur. But I since learned that it was a butterfly native to southern Europe, called a Hummingbird Hawkmoth. We have other "hawkmoths" here in the U.S., but not this one.
Seattle, WA USA Wed 12/14/2005
Free vacation in Spain
Spending seven days in a renovated medieval village nestled in the mountains north of Madrid teaching English to Spaniards. I have traveled around the world and this is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. You must be a native English speaker to volunteer and only English is spoken in the village. Did I mention that the seven days are free for the English speakers? There is more information on vaughanvillage.com.
Atlanta, GA USA Thu 12/08/2005
For an unforgetable European adventure consider a sailing trip along the Croatian coast! The rocky shoreline with it's many bays and coves, the balmy mediterranean waters, the unsurpassed sea food and the beautiful fortified towns along the Dalmatian coast are something to behold! Wildly romantic but soothing at once! I grew up sailing there for many summers, on chartered sail boats chock full with friends and family. Later I accompanied my father on many sailing trips when he taught advanced navigation courses in this part of the world.
Austria & USA Sun 11/06/2005
Hiking in the Alps
Let's get this started. I've hiked in the Swiss, French, and Bavarian Alps and the Dolomites, on four separate trips. One was with the Seattle Mountaineers, the others were family trips I planned myself. I'd love to answer questions about where to go for hiking, and what to expect there. I'd also like to hear from others about places they have been, and the adventures they had.
Seattle, WA USA Thu 11/03/2005