17 June 2015

Mediterranean Scene

Having now returned from a couple weeks worth of globetrotting, I can reflect on the experience enough to whip up an overdue blog post. Sadly, this trip was exclusively as a pedestrian, and the places we visited were probably the least bike-friendly I’ve ever seen. No kidding, I should title this post Top 3 Places To Die On A Bicycle. Nevertheless, there were still cyclists in each city, proving that… well, proving that even the worst odds can play in your favor every so often.

The first destination was Istanbul, (not Constantinople… thanks, Amelia). Spending a few days here we visted many of the historical places they’re known for like the Turkish Bazaar and a couple of the Mosques. Istanbul is really an amazing place, but it’s also gigantic, spanning two continents and several districts. Also, the traffic is frequently approaching absolute gridlock at any given time, which means if you’re on a bike you’ll have to hop some sidewalks. Granted, there are probably areas of the city better suited to cycling, but where we stayed in the historic section, you’re better off taking the metro.

We boarded our cruise in Istanbul and set off for a number of stops on our way to Rome. Malta was one place I could see being suited for bike travel, being an island and all. According to their official tourist website, they’ve got "over 1,000 kilometers of new cycling routes“, though from what I saw, "cycling route“ means, "normal, narrow Maltese roads that cars have trouble navigating through, so why not ride a bike instead?"

Finally, after a couple visits to Italian coastal towns, we reached Rome. Now, while there have been some improvements and initiatives to the cycling scene in Rome, it is still, altogether, an awful place to ride your bicycle. The traffic is egregious, the congestion is outrageous, and the entire transit situation is most oftentimes dangerous. Clearly, the mopeds have rule of the road here in Rome, but even riding in a car is stressful. The infrastructure is lacking, even for pedestrains, as we witnessed first hand by walking along raised shoulders in place of sidewalks just to get to where we were eating dinner. Sure, when you’re in the cobblestoned city center just across the river from Vatican City, it’s easy to get around on foot, but that’s where the entitlement ends. Italian traffic is insane. The cyclists there are also, probably, insane too, because I saw not one but several riding on what we tend to refer to as “highways“ where the speed limit is 100KPH. Not to mention some of the routes that are glamourized by the Giro d’Italia that any other day of the year are populated with tour giant tour busses passing other tour busses.

So you can imagine the serentity we felt flying into Eindhoven in the Netherlands and seeing the peaceful roundabouts and the segregated bike lanes, all flowing beautifully in stark contrast to the abysmal chaos of Italian traffic. It was like having a nightmare and waking up to the reality of everyday life, except that the Italians are forever stuck with these narrow, crowded streets, and they’ve given up hope of anything better several hundred years ago. So to anyone that complains that cycling infrastructure in the U.S. is bad, I invite you to visit southern Europe and I’m certain you’ll find you’ve probably got it much better where you live.

The vacation was a good time, and it was great to see some of the most ancient places on Earth, but at the end of it, I think we were all ready to get back to Germany. And I was as eager as ever to get back to riding my bike.

- Bicyclist Abroad

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