It’s kind of cliche, but it’s also terribly true. One of the best things about bicycle touring is the people you meet along the way.
But meeting someone special takes time. It doesn’t happen every day. If you travel alone (the way I do much of the time), weeks can pass before you have an even moderately lengthy conversation with another individual. And then, when you least expect if, you meet someone that you really hit it off with. And it’s these people, when you look back, that make the bicycle touring experience such a positive one!
As 2014 comes to a close, I thought I would take a moment and look back on my bicycle touring adventures in Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, the United Kingdom, Romania, China and Taiwan this year… and say thanks to the people who made my travels over the last 12 months so incredibly special.
Kasia (a previous winner of the Bicycle Touring Pro Travel Scholarship) joined me for a week-long guided boat and bike tour down the Danube River with the tour company – Rad & Reisen. We rode our bikes each day, ate like kings and had a blast making friends with the other people on the tour with us.
Bob and Sue were one of the couples we met on the Rad & Reisen bike tour through Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. Bob and Sue were our dinning partners each day on the boat and we quickly became good friends.
Another memorable individual that Kasia and I made friends with on our bike and boat tour down the Danube River was this man (shown above) named Dennis. Dennis was quite a character and was always doing something to make us all laugh and smile.
Back in Poznan, Poland, I spent a large amount of time with Erik Witsoe, the owner of the Bigfoot Coffee Shop and an American living in Poznan with his Polish fiance. While hanging out with Erik at his coffee shop, I also made friends with a number of his customers.
When I was in Poznan for the first time in 2012, I had been invited to tour an underground fortress by a local tour guide named Pawel. We had kept in touch over the previous 12+ months, so when I returned to Poznan this year, he invited me on a bike ride with his friend Daga, who just happens to be the lead singer for the Polish music group, Dagadana.
I was in Poznan for two weeks after finishing the Rad & Reisen boat tour with Kasia, and while I was there I was staying in an apartment I rented on AirBNB.com. The young woman (Karolina) who owned the studio apartment was kind enough to ask me to dinner on several occasions during my stay in the city, and through the small parties held at her home I was able to meet and make friends with her boyfriend, brother, and a number of their joint friends (see below).
While I was in Poznan for those two weeks, I was working on the Bicycle Touring Pro website and writing up my detailed review of the Rad & Reisen bike tour. I also spent a fair amount of time taking table-tennis lessons from my Polish instructor, Wieslaw Witek.
Another friend that I was able to meet up with again during my stay in Poznan was the lovely Ariadna Majewska of Help, I Have Nothing To Wear. We went on a bike ride, ate together at a vegan restaurant, and she even invited me to stay the night at her parents’ farmhouse in the nearby city of Gniezno, Poland.
After cycling from Poznan to the seaside city of Gdansk, I ran into a young bicycle traveler from Germany who asked me to call him “Dodo.” Dodo and I had a blast cycling with one another as we crossed from Poland into Lithuania and then eventually went our separate ways in the capital city of Vilnius.
During the time that Dodo and I were riding together we ran into the boys from the Olecko Bike Club, who chased after us and delighted us both with their enthusiasm for the Polish cycling scene.
Once Dodo and I crossed into Lithuania, we accidentally stumbled up on the home of Lithuania’s ex-cycling coach, who let us camp on his property for the night and regaled us with stories about bike racing in his country.
Leaving Lithuania, I crossed into nearby Latvia and in the city’s capital city met up with Ilze from en.thecrazytravel.com. Ilze and her boyfriend, Pablo, have been cycling around Europe on an extremely low-budget adventure for the last several months. Be sure to visit their website and follow their travels!
During my two-week-long self-guided bicycle tour with CityBike Ltd. through the European countries of Latvia and Estonia, I ran into several other bicycle travelers. Andreas and Elizabeth were a couple from Germany who were cycling in the same direction as me, so they let tag along with them for a day or more, and we kept running into one another at the ferry crossings or on the roads taking us from one island to the next.
In Finland, I was joined by my friend Rob, who I first met on the Bike Switzerland Challenge Tour in 2012 and who joined me on a week-long bike tour through the Loire Valley in 2013. Rob cycled with me from Helsinki to Kajaani – more than 650 kilometers north. We only had a short week to spend together on the road, but it was a fun adventure – made even better because I was in Rob’s company.
While in central Finland, I was invited into the home of Inka and Perttu. They let me sleep in their guest house for several nights, invited me to a small dinner party they held on their patio, and introduced me to several of their friends. From left to right below, that’s Inka, Johanna, Perttu and Annu.
After my bike tour in Finland was over, I flew to Ireland and spent 10 days or so in the Wicklow Mountains, just south of Dublin. It was here that I ran into Jeff, a BicycleTouringPro.com reader who just happened to recognize me and my bicycle. He flag me down as he drove past in his car… and a few days later I emailed Jeff to ask if I could sleep (and most importantly, shower) at his house. He said that wouldn’t be a problem, and I later spent two fun-filled nights with Jeff, his wife Deidre, and their two daughters, Ruby and Tilly.
These next people are kind of hard to explain. You see, my name is “Darren Alff,” and growing up in the United States, my parents told me from a very young age that I was the last “Alff” in the entire world. But when the Internet (and more importantly, Facebook) came around, I discovered that there was another Alff family living in Europe. And as it turns out, this other Alff family just happened to be on vacation in Dublin, Ireland at the exact same time I was there myself. So we met up and went out to lunch together at The Merry Ploughboy. Such a strange way to meet – but such lovely people!
Then I spent a solid week traveling around Ireland in a rental car with my friends Fee and Johanna. I met Fee (at the supermarket) several years back in the United States and we’ve kept in touch as the years have passed. I’ve even stayed at Fee’s home in Germany… and both Fee and Johanna have visited me at my home in the state of Utah. Anyway, we planned this week-long road trip around Ireland… and it was a blast. I was happy to take a break from my bicycle that week, and I enjoyed all that Ireland had to offer, but more than anything, I was delighted to be spending time with Fee and Johanna.
Back in Dublin, Michal (from Poland) and Isabella (from Brazil) allowed me to camp in their backyard for a night… and even stored my bicycle and other belongings for me while I was traveling around Ireland with Fee and Johanna.
My last night in Ireland was spent with David and Mirra, whom I had met while flying to Ireland from Finland. We just happened to be seated next to one another on the airplane, I had gotten their contact information, and when I made my way back to Dublin I asked if they would be willing to host me for the night. The friendly couple graciously invited me in and it was so nice to see them both again.
Now in the United Kingdom, I sent off an email to a Warmshowers.org host named Ivan, asking for a place to stay in the city of Liverpool. He wrote me back and said he’d be happy to host me. When I arrived at his home late in the evening, he introduced me to his friend (from the nearby Isle of Man) and girlfriend (Kotryna), and then suggested that we all go on a bike ride to a nearby beach.
I took a train from Liverpool to London and then cycled my way to the home of Jill and Shaun in nearby Henley-on-Thames. Friends of the family, I stayed with Jill and Shaun for two nights after finishing my bike tour in Iceland in 2012, and they were kind enough to invite me back for another stay this year. Jill and Shaun not only let me stay at their house, but they thoroughly spoiled me while I was there. They took took me out to lunch/dinner, made me several homemade meals, took me on a tour of Blenheim Palace, took me to a murder-mystery performance (which I thoroughly enjoyed), and even helped me celebrate my 31st birthday in their company. I also got to visit with my friend Katelyn while staying in Henley with Jill and Shaun.
From England I flew to Sibiu, Romania, and while there in the city I met up with bicycle traveler, Casey Link, who has been traveling around Europe for the last two years with both a bicycle and a packraft. I invited Casey to stay for two nights in the apartment I was renting in the city, we went on a long hike together, and I even conducted this live webinar with him while he was there with me in Sibiu.
After a month in Romania, I flew to Taiwan and participated in a month-long bicycle tour around the island with Kevin Burrett – an Australian I first met in 2012 on the Bike Switzerland Challenge Tour. Kevin and I had a great time riding our bikes around Taiwan and enjoying the country’s beaches, mountains, food, music and people.
During our bike ride around Taiwan, Kevin and I were able to meet up with Dylan and Rian from Eat. Sleep. Surf. Dylan and Ryan just happened to be in Taiwan at the same time as us because they were there shooting their new documentary bicycle/surf movie, which is set in beautiful Taiwan! I had reviewed these young filmmakers’ work previously here on the Bicycle Touring Pro website (not just once, but twice), so it was great to finally meet the two in person.
After my bike tour with Kevin came to a close, Kevin flew back home to Australia and I stayed in the country on my own for an additional 40 days. After scouting out the best locations in the country with Kevin, I decided to go back to the city of Taitung (located on the southeastern side of the island) and make this place my home. While I was in Taitung, I played table tennis (also known as “ping-pong”) on a near daily basis at a nearby table tennis club, and I made a lot of friends there.
I spent my month in Taitung living at the Gin Lon Hotel, located just around the corner from the Showtime shopping mall and every other shop/restaurant I would need during my time in the city. The owner of the hotel, and his son Justin, took me in and were warm, welcoming hosts.
Finally, during my last couple weeks in Taiwan, I met Amber (on the far left below) at the beach as she was riding her skateboard. She invited me to come over to the eyelash studio where she works and meet her friends, and I even joined her on a later skateboarding trip of my own.
While I went to a lot of beautiful places this year and racked up several thousand kilometers on my bicycle, it is the people I met along the way that truly made this year special. Thanks so much for being a part of my journey… and I hope to see you all again sometime soon!