I just returned from three weeks of walking and bicycling in Europe and though I could write volumes about the experience, I’ll restrict myself to ‘things we should keep in mind’ while we develop our own on and off road facilities in the North Okanagan.
Due to rain, the four days we had in Switzerland were spent either walking around Glarus or taking the train to areas such as Rapperswil a medieval town and part of the Santiago de Compostela route, ‘Jacobs Way.’ I think the most important take home message is to make wayfinding easy. Throughout our travels we came to depend on the quantity and clarity of the pedestrian signage. The yellow directional Wander Weg signs in Switzerland include the name and walking time to the next few destinations. It wasn’t unusual to see destination 2, 4 or 10 hours away on foot. On the bike route signs you had to note if the front wheel was raised, this indicates a mountain bike route, the regular icon we use was for on road facilities, of which there are plenty. Throughout our travels we didn’t see any signs forbidding sidewalk bicycling; using bike bells, cycling slower around people is the norm. Last thing about Switzerland; multi-lingual train ticket kiosks are great. That was one thing that took the anxiety out of traveling within, and out of, the country. So off we went via the high-speed train to Provence.
We made our way to Avignon where, having booked through Discover France, we were set up with hybrid bikes, a GPS that had routes loaded in it, printed route sheet descriptions of places to go, and they arranged a great little hotel within the city walls. Walking was the best option in and around the narrow streets in Avignon, but we cycled within the city walls too without problem. Outside of the city walls, the streets and bridge that led to the part of town on the other side of the river, good signage and dedicated, separated bicycle facilities made travel easy. The city of Nimes seemed more cycle friendly than Arles but both were, like Avignon, walled cities, with lots to see on foot. In Arles we got our fix of Vincent van Gogh history and stood at the site that inspired his ‘Starry Night’ painting. Nimes has the best preserved Roman Coliseum in the world. From Nimes it’s easy to get to Barcelona on the fast train so next we went to Spain.
Arriving in Barcelona we immediately took a train to Ripoll where UTRACKS arranged for us to pick up hybrid bikes and guide sheets. Over the next week while UTRACKS moved our luggage, we travelled on mostly rail trail, the bicicarril, or connected Bikeways from Ripoll to Olot, where we spent an additional day to ride through the volcano national park, then to Girona which was the best rail trail day experience ever. In previous days we have been ascending and this was our descent day on packed track with beautiful scenery and quaint little rail towns. One aspect worth noting about this leg of the journey was that the rail trail was particularly disjointed but brought together through quite an effort of painted bike route lines, coloured icons on the paved surfaces assured us we were on the right route and, of course, frequent sign posts. It appears to me they made every effort to keep cyclists on track. We spent an additional day in Girona so we could take the train to Figueres to see the Dali museum. The trip from Girona to the Mediterranean town of Sant Feliu was rail trail again. Here we left our bikes, boarded a bus and returned to Barcelona, this time to stay five days.
Barcelona is a very walkable city; it was safe in the evenings and in the underground metro stations. The buses are easy to use and the people on the bus are so willing to help you find the right stop. As well, Barcelona, like every city mentioned so far, has a fleet of bicycles available to people in possession of the rental card. Insert your card, take a bike, return bike to a depot – it’s that easy. The difference with Barcelona is that it is a city of over 1.5 million and with rental bikes to meet that population. We were staying about 1 hour walk uphill from the old town. Many the residents in our area of town obviously got up and rode a bike downtown, but probably took the underground rail, called the Metro, or the bus home. A number of times I saw a City of Barcelona truck and flat deck trailer transporting the bikes back uphill.
For me, the 'Take Home Message" was the importance of way finding signs, the more the better. The multi-lingual signs, maps, and tourist info were also fantastic. Another thing was obvious to me too; cities that want to attract people to live there and vacation there, make all sidewalks broad, provide bicycling options in the way of facilities and bicycle rentals, and make transit such as buses and trains easy to use.
Kerry is happiest when she's out of her car and on her bicycle. As a community physiotherapist, she'd love to see more people of all ages engaging in an active lifestyle by walking and bicycling to where they need to go!
Bruce keeps active by walking and running in the Vernon area. When not on foot you can often see him on bicycle, with his trailer, shopping locally or taking his recycling to the depot. Bruce has also been a CAN-BIKE bicycling skills instructor for over 20 years. See www.gonecycling.com