The International Living Podcast

Episode 41: A Cycling Adventure from London to Berlin

September 06, 2023 International Living
Episode 41: A Cycling Adventure from London to Berlin
The International Living Podcast
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The International Living Podcast
Episode 41: A Cycling Adventure from London to Berlin
Sep 06, 2023
International Living

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This week, the Bigger, Better World podcast takes a trip to Europe, talking to International Living contributor Sharyn Nilsen about her recent adventure traversing the continent, from London to Berlin, by bicycle.

Sharyn and her husband, Tim, are no beginners when it comes to bike touring. With long-distance trips across Africa, North America, and Australia already on their resume, it was only a matter of time before the varied geography and cultures of Europe called.

Full-time travelers, Sharyn and Tim split their time between exploration missions and the more settled and domestic activity of house- and pet-sitting. Bookending their bike journey across Europe with home stays in the UK, the northern hemisphere summer gave them ample time to see the sights,

"Perhaps we were lucky, but we had only one rainy day. The summer weather was mostly warm and sunny without being too hot, with cool nights for a restful night’s sleep in our tent…. We rolled past rustic-looking windmills, grand old churches with functioning bell towers, and age-old castles in various stages of decay through dappled ancient forests and acres of wheat, barley, and cornfields."

Independent, self-sufficient, and not bound to any strict timetable, Sharyn and Tim’s adventure allowed them to indulge themselves as they liked. With plenty of breaks, no high-mileage rides, and always a cold beer at their destination, there was no need to race through the journey. 

"We’re not hardcore cyclists," Sharyn states. There’s so much to see and do on the stretch between the Netherlands and Germany that it would be a shame to rush it all. On the other hand, there’s no difficulty in taking the bikes on a train to cover some distance either. That’s all part of the appeal, when there’s no set plan and no clocks to punch.

Join host, Jim Santos, as he meets Sharyn Nilsen in the latest episode of Bigger, Better World.

Read Sharyn's full article in the December issue of the International Living Magazine.

If you’re enjoying the podcast, we would really appreciate it if you could leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform: https://lovethepodcast.com/internationalliving.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

This week, the Bigger, Better World podcast takes a trip to Europe, talking to International Living contributor Sharyn Nilsen about her recent adventure traversing the continent, from London to Berlin, by bicycle.

Sharyn and her husband, Tim, are no beginners when it comes to bike touring. With long-distance trips across Africa, North America, and Australia already on their resume, it was only a matter of time before the varied geography and cultures of Europe called.

Full-time travelers, Sharyn and Tim split their time between exploration missions and the more settled and domestic activity of house- and pet-sitting. Bookending their bike journey across Europe with home stays in the UK, the northern hemisphere summer gave them ample time to see the sights,

"Perhaps we were lucky, but we had only one rainy day. The summer weather was mostly warm and sunny without being too hot, with cool nights for a restful night’s sleep in our tent…. We rolled past rustic-looking windmills, grand old churches with functioning bell towers, and age-old castles in various stages of decay through dappled ancient forests and acres of wheat, barley, and cornfields."

Independent, self-sufficient, and not bound to any strict timetable, Sharyn and Tim’s adventure allowed them to indulge themselves as they liked. With plenty of breaks, no high-mileage rides, and always a cold beer at their destination, there was no need to race through the journey. 

"We’re not hardcore cyclists," Sharyn states. There’s so much to see and do on the stretch between the Netherlands and Germany that it would be a shame to rush it all. On the other hand, there’s no difficulty in taking the bikes on a train to cover some distance either. That’s all part of the appeal, when there’s no set plan and no clocks to punch.

Join host, Jim Santos, as he meets Sharyn Nilsen in the latest episode of Bigger, Better World.

Read Sharyn's full article in the December issue of the International Living Magazine.

If you’re enjoying the podcast, we would really appreciate it if you could leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform: https://lovethepodcast.com/internationalliving.

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

Jim Santos 09.29 
Hello, everyone. I'm Jim Santos and this is Bigger, Better World from International Living.

Hello, everyone, and welcome again to bigger, Better World. Now, in last week's podcast, we spoke with Kevin McGoff, who enjoys exploring France via canals on a slow boat. Today, we're going to meet another person who favors an alternative transportation and a slower pace. Our guest is Sharyn Nilson. Sharyn wrote an article for the December 2022 edition of International Living entitled ‘A Cycling Adventure from London to Berlin’. Now, today, she happens to be in Brussels, the capital of Belgium. Sharyn, welcome to Bigger, Better World and thanks for joining us today.

Sharyn Nilsen 01:12 
Yeah. G'day Jim. How you doing?

Jim Santos 01:14 
Oh, pretty good. So how are things in Brussels?

Sharyn Nilsen 01:17 
It's a bit of a gray day today, but I've had plenty of admin to do since we've been out on the bikes for the last month. So whenever we get, we're house sitting at the moment, so we've got a nice desk for the computer, so it just allows me to catch up on all the stuff that we can't do when we're riding.

Jim Santos 01:35 
Now, I understand from your article that you were trying to get to Berlin to do some pet sitting there as well. Is that something that you do often, pet sit and house sit in foreign countries?

Sharyn Nilsen 01:47 
Yeah, we've done well over 50 house sits on four continents. So what we tend to do is we cycle for the summer wherever we're cycling, and then we like to top and tail that with house sitting because that allows us to kind of get everything sorted beforehand and also obviously have a nice comfortable rest when we're finished after camping for however long.

Jim Santos 02:16 
And where do you call home?

Sharyn Nilsen 02:18 
The world? Yeah, we're originally from outback Australia. We left for this trip in May 2010 and we've been out and about since then.

Jim Santos 02:34 
How do you go about finding these pet sitting and house sitting gigs?

Sharyn Nilsen 02:39 
We're members of a platform called Trusted Housesitters, so there's a number of other platforms around, but they probably have the most international sits, so we've got an excellent reputation on the platform and so we don't have any problems finding and obtaining house sits in places that we want to go. Or sometimes we find a house sit and then we plan how we're going to get there. And that can be on a bicycle or a train or a bus or a plane. Just depends on what's going on at the time.

Jim Santos 03:12 
Yeah, that's an interesting way to be able to see a lot of parts of the world. I know when we were living in Ecuador and wanted to head to Peru for a while we were going to do the Inca Trail. We used that service to find a pet sitter, a young woman who lived in the US. And that was how she saw the world. Also. She just had registered and she'd go from place to place to either sit house or take care of pets. She just returned from France where she was caring for horses. 

Yeah, it's a really interesting way. I'm glad you've been able to work that out. Did you have trouble during the pandemic while you were doing this?

Sharyn Nilsen 03:45 
We were in Vietnam at the time. We mix it up. We don't pet sit all the time, we don't cycle all the time. We often backpack, but for many years we were based in and out of Vietnam. We were teaching English, do a year's contract, save some money, and then head off and go somewhere else and then come back and do it all again. So we hadn't intended to teach during the pandemic. We were just going to do three month stints and visit places like East Timor and Palawan and Brunei that we hadn't…they're kind of the only places in Asia that we haven't visited yet, or Southeast Asia. 

And so when the decision came to return to Australia or to stay in Vietnam, which we knew and we knew would be safe and secure and it was a lot cheaper, we decided to stay. So we were actually able to get a job so we could get a work permit and a temporary residence card, and so we didn't have any problems with visas or anything like that. So that was a really good outcome from the whole thing.

Jim Santos 04:47 
How did the cycling thing come about? Have you and Tim always been enthusiasts?

Sharyn Nilsen 04:52 
No, I used to do triathlons back in the day when I had a midlife crisis in my 40s. But Tim was never really a cyclist, but we were backpacking across the Silk Route, so we were traveling from Shanghai through to Istanbul, and at the time you needed a lot of visas for the Stans, like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. One of the best places to get the onward visas was Kyrgystan in Bishkek, the capital. 

And so we kind of arrived there and we found a great little hostel, and most of the other people at the hostel were cyclists, long distance cyclists, and they were headed mainly to China. And by that time we'd been backpacking through, I don't know, 70, 75 countries, more. And with the whole smartphone and Internet thing, it was starting to get it all a bit easy. So we were talking to these guys and they were telling us all the stories of their adventures on the bicycles. And by the time we'd made it through to Tajikistan, the capital there, Dushanbe, we were sitting around having a beer one day and we both looked at each other and said, yeah, we should do that.

So we got through to Turkey and then we were doing a trans-Africa for ten months, and while we were doing the African Tour, we did the research and had the bikes ordered to Perth. And so once we'd finished trans-Africa, we flew into Perth, picked up the bikes and cycled across Australia.

Jim Santos 06:24 
Yeah, that was one of the things I was going to ask you, if you had your own gear or if you rented bikes for these.

Sharyn Nilsen 06:30 
No, no, we have all our own gear.

Jim Santos 06:32 
I know cycling's really a bigger means of transportation in other countries. In North America, it's really just something done for exercise or sport. It's not really a big means of transportation, but I know certainly in Europe that's a pretty common form of transportation. I guess, for you, if you're already backpacking, this just allows you to cover a little bit more territory.

Sharyn Nilsen 06:53 
Yeah, it's different when you're backpacking, you're normally on a bus or a train, hitchhiking or whatever. Bicycle travel is definitely slow travel. You get to see things a whole different perspective. The infrastructure for cycling in Western Europe at least, is really good. It's certainly continental Europe. The UK's still improving and has a long way to go, but places like the Netherlands and Germany and Belgium and France have incredible infrastructure and it's a common way to take your holidays.

Jim Santos 07:29 
Now, you're right about being able to take the bikes on trains and ferries, getting around in places of Europe, but I'm curious, how did you get your bikes from Australia over to Europe? Is it very easy to transport them by air?

Sharyn Nilsen 07:45 
It's not easy, and we've vowed never to fly them again.

Jim Santos 07:48 
But I was wondering about that.

Sharyn Nilsen 07:51 
We actually had oh, gosh, we went from Australia, we did another big ride from the Arctic Circle down to Central Europe. We then flew them to Canada and we did the northern tier, which is from New York state through to Washington state, along the Canadian border. And we had to do that over two years because they had bushfires in Montana.

Jim Santos 08:17 
Right.

Sharyn Nilsen 08:17 
So we kind of got stopped there. So we came back the next year and finished it and then rode down the Pacific coast. So we actually flew the bikes back to Vietnam and we stored them there and then we took them over to Europe and we've got a friend in the UK who keeps them for us over winter, so we don't have to… we're fair weather cyclists, we don't cycle in winter.

Jim Santos 08:41 
Yeah, I was wondering what it's like when you run into rough weather, but I guess it's much the same if you're used to backpacking.

Sharyn Nilsen 08:47 
Yeah. Although the last three weeks in Germany and France has been particularly wet and quite cold from what we experienced last year, it was like high 30s most days, which, as Aussies, we didn't mind at all. But this year there was quite a bit of rain, so we spent the last three weeks dodging storms, not getting wet, luckily, but it does put that extra challenge to the whole adventure.

Jim Santos 09:17 
What kind of gear do you need to carry on these trips?

Sharyn Nilsen 09:20 
Well, it depends on how you want to do it. Like, we camp most of the time, so we have a tent, we have a little cooking kind of utensils and saucepans and gas. Our sleeping gear, obviously, clothes and bits and pieces. We have a toolkit that fixes the basics. But a lot of people just go from Airbnb to like in Europe, nothing's far from anything. So hotels, Airbnbs. There's an organization, it's huge in the States, quite big in parts of Europe called Warm Showers, which is like couch surfing for touring cyclists, so they host other cyclists. So if you turn up with a fully loaded bike, just contact them a couple of days ahead and they'll give you a bed and a warm shower, often dinner and some great conversation.

Jim Santos 10:11 
I suppose a lot of planning goes into these trips before you head out on the bikes.

Sharyn Nilsen 10:16 
Yeah, we're pretty good at knowing what we need these days, mainly route planning, but in Europe, they have a system called Eurovelo, and there's, I think, probably over 90,000 cycling paths realized to different extents. But certainly in Western Europe, most of the paths are fully realized. So this year we actually cycled what they call EV 15, or the alternative name is the Rhine Route. So it starts at Oberalp Pass in Switzerland, between Andermatt and Disentis. And you cycle down through the Alps, because that's where the source of the river is. And you follow that all the way through to Dusseldorf in Germany, and then it turns and it heads off into the Netherlands, out into the Hook of Holland there. So we cycled a lot of the Netherlands last year, so we turned off at Cologne and came over to Brussels instead.

Jim Santos 11:16 
Well, on the London to Berlin route that you wrote about, you said that's part of a larger route that you can take.

Sharyn Nilsen 11:25 
Yeah. So the Eurovelo 2, I think it's called the Capitals route, starts in Ireland, so it goes through Dublin. I think it goes through London, which is where we picked it up. The Hague is the administrative capital of the Netherlands, and it goes through to Berlin, Warsaw, and I think it goes through Minsk and through to Moscow. But obviously that's a little bit more difficult at the moment.

Jim Santos 11:51 
Right.

Sharyn Nilsen 11:52 
So we stopped in Berlin. That was where we had the house. So that was our ride for the summer. It took us about a month or so to get over there slowly, and then we caught a Flix bus. I think you have Flix bus in the States too, but certainly in Europe, some of the buses will take your bicycles on the back of the bus. So if you need to get somewhere quickly or there's going to be bad weather for the next week, then you can get on a Flix bus, put the bikes on, put the luggage on and head off to your next destination.

Jim Santos 12:24 
London to Berlin took you….

Sharyn Nilsen 12:26 
About, it's about a thousand kilometers, I think. So that's pretty easy riding if you want to stop off and see some of the places along the way.

Jim Santos 12:37 
What's the most difficult terrain you found on these bike trails?

Sharyn Nilsen 12:41 
The Eurovelos will often take you off onto, like, gravel paths, through forests, which is pretty cool because you're off the road and there's no traffic. But we found, certainly with EV 2 last year, we're in another forest and this gravel path, we have no suspension on our bikes. They're still bikes, they're heavy, they're fully loaded. Sometimes the paths are more for mountain bikes, unloaded. So when we got to Munster, we decided that we were going to hook off and head up and see some of the other cities, Hanover, Magdeburg and through to Berlin that way. 

And because the infrastructure in Germany is so good and there's cycle paths everywhere, it just meant it was a more direct route with not as many detours. So we mix it up, we follow the paths where it makes sense, but we don't have to.

Jim Santos 13:35 
Well, walk me through this trip from London to Berlin. So you were in London already.

Sharyn Nilsen 13:43 
Yep. We picked up the bikes, they were with our friends and we did some house sitting in London and in Kent. Then we cycled up the Lee Valley and it follows the Lee Valley, and then it goes off through a couple of larger cities to Harwich, which is where the ferry goes over to Hook of Holland. So then we went to Den Haag, and then it goes across through Utrecht, Arnhem and then through to Germany, so to Munster, and that's where we kind of turned north a bit and went to Hanover and Magdeburg and then across to Berlin.

Jim Santos 14:20 
Do you run into a lot of people doing this who are doing the same kind of thing that you and Tim are doing?

Sharyn Nilsen 14:25 
Certainly a lot of Europeans take their summer holidays and go cycling, so yeah, and now that EV bikes have been the…electric bikes have become so huge, lots more people are able to do it. Certainly. We were at a campsite the other night and I think we were probably some of the youngest cyclists there. I'm 57, Tim's 62, so lots of people in their 70s, some of them without electric bikes. So, yeah, lots, lots and lots of people. The whole families, little toddlers, like two-year-olds on the bike.

Jim Santos 15:00 
If you're just starting out, just want to kind of sample this, what would you say is one of the easiest places to set up a little trip.

Sharyn Nilsen 15:08 
Oh, definitely the Netherlands. The infrastructure in the Netherlands is incredible.

Jim Santos 15:14 
And mostly flat territory.

Sharyn Nilsen 15:16 
Mostly flat. You've got to plan if you're going to do a circle. The wind is predominantly from the west, but not always, so the easy way is to start on the coast and cycle inland most days. And they have a lot of long distance cycling paths. In the Netherlands, you wouldn't think for such a small country that you could get a lot of kilometers up, but you could easily do a thousand kilometers. I keep saying kilometers. Sorry. In miles, you could probably do a thousand miles easily just on cycle pubs in the Netherlands and lots of little hotels and guest houses and campgrounds. Yeah.

Jim Santos 15:51 
I was wondering if there is an infrastructure that caters to this type of travelers, like places.

Sharyn Nilsen 15:56 
Yeah. And the Eurovelo tries to put you in those places so that you don't have problems finding accommodation or food or supermarkets type of thing.

Jim Santos 16:06 
In all the miles you've biked, have you ever run into any serious mechanical problems or difficulties on the trails?

Sharyn Nilsen 16:12 
Oh, touch wood. We don't want to jinx this, but no. I broke a chain last year, but we had a spare chain link, so we just fixed it and went on. We have really good tires. We rarely get a flat, but it's always on the back. So you've got to unload the whole bike, right? 

No, not really. Our bikes are really tough. We ride long haul truckers and we bought them before disc brakes became a thing. And they're steel and they're sturdy and I don't think they're going to malfunction anytime soon.

Jim Santos 16:47 
From reading your article, it sounds like it's more about the scenery and the things that you can do itself, rather than the actual bike riding.

Sharyn Nilsen 16:56 
Yeah. So we meet a lot of people that do 100 miles a day. That's not our style. We did it when we crossed Australia, but at times, because there's such vast distances between things, there's not much else to do out on the Nullabor Plain except cycle, but in Europe you don't have to do that and there's little villages every ten mile or so. So if you've got your head down cycling, then it's really easy to just miss what you're cycling through. Yeah. So we basically do about 30 miles a day. 30 to 40 miles a day is enough for us.

Jim Santos 17:38 
Yeah.

Jim Santos 17:38 
From my own experience, I would say the most important piece of equipment that I would want is an extremely comfortable bicycle seat. Ever run into any problems like that on the longer trips?

Sharyn Nilsen 17:52 
Not really. I have a Brooks saddle. It's leather, it's hard, and the way I wore it is we got soaking wet one day and after that it just seemed to fit a lot better. But, yeah, a lot of people think the squishier and more padding you have on your saddle, the more comfortable. But that's not actually true, I don't think, because there's more surface area to rub the design of. A lot of the road cycling seats are actually built not to give you pain, but certainly Brooks saddles are a bit renowned in the touring cycling sphere for being comfortable.

Jim Santos 18:37 
I would imagine you have to at least be in reasonable physical shape to be able to do it.

Sharyn Nilsen 18:43 
You would imagine, yeah.

Jim Santos 18:44 
Is there any particular training program that you do if it's been a while before you've been a while since you've been on the bikes?

Sharyn Nilsen 18:52 
No, not at all, really. We continually repeat the same mistake in that we just don't. The only ride we did any training for was the second year in the States when we were dropping straight down from Canada into the Rockies, basically. And we figured we needed to do a bit of training before we hit those. 

So we did some rides around Calgary, which is quite hilly, but when we started cycling across Australia, neither of us had ridden the fully laden bikes. The day we set off, Tim's maximum kilometers he'd ever ridden before in his life was 15 and the first day we did 64. And it's been the same every ride. Like this ride. We were hanging out in London, drinking, relaxing, pet sitting, and you just get…I guess if you can ride a bike, you can just get back on it and keep riding it. It hurts, but you got to plan your rides so it doesn't hurt quite as much.

Jim Santos 20:00 
So it's not exactly a Spartan, highly athletic lifestyle that you're leading.

Sharyn Nilsen 20:05 
No, we finish every day and we like a beer. So we have these ridiculously large chairs that we decided we deserve because we're getting older and we require comfort. And so we set those up and we normally go to the supermarket and grab a couple of beers and we have a couple of beers and we cook dinner or buy dinner and yeah, that's pretty relaxing. Chat to some of the other campers, other bikers, but no, we don't go out of our way to do any training.

Jim Santos 20:38 
Is there a particular trail or bike ride that stands out to you as one of your favorites?

Sharyn Nilsen 20:42 
Well, definitely. I mean, the northern tier in the US, certainly through western Montana and through Washington State, was absolutely spectacular. That part of the ride, I guess, for us. We're from the outback. It's flat, it's dry, it's dusty. There's not a mountain within 1500 km. So that was really amazing for us. 

The ride we did, we started up in Norway on the Russian border above Finland. I think it's Eurovelo 13, called the Iron Curtain Route. That was pretty nice. Certainly down through Finland during the midnight sun, because you can free camp anywhere. So you just pull the bike off the side of the road, find yourself a nice soft spot in the forest and pitch camp. Very little traffic. And the fact that the midnight sun, it's light all day for 24 hours. It meant that if it rained, we could just stay in the tent and when it stopped raining, we could start riding. And sometimes we'd start riding at midnight or one in the morning because that was a better option for us than to ride in the rain.

Jim Santos 21:51 
How about the other side of that? Is there a trail or a trip where you just will absolutely never do that one again?

Sharyn Nilsen 21:59 
There's a trail in the UK called the Pilgrim’s Way.

Jim Santos 22:05 
Sounds harmless.

Sharyn Nilsen 22:10 
Now, there was a lot of kind of circumstances why it was so bad, but the year before that had a lot of rain and I think it had washed away a lot of the surface dirt. But it's really a mountain belt trail. You shouldn't be taking fully loaded bikes on it. It was up and down, it was slippery, there were tree roots and it took us 10 hours to do 50 km. So we're basically doing 3 miles an hour. So, yeah, we wouldn't do that one again.

Jim Santos 22:39 
So it's about a walking pace, really.

Sharyn Nilsen 22:41 
Well, we were walking quite a lot of it.

Jim Santos 22:43 
Right. Do you have advice for anybody who's planning a trip or thinking about doing this as a way to explore parts of Europe?

Sharyn Nilsen 22:53 
I just do know we've had friends, we actually took the specifications for our bikes from a New Zealand guy who we met in Kyrgyzstan. We've just had friends who are retired from Australia. They basically just copied our specs for the bikes and gear and they did their first ride this year and they're planning already their ride in Europe for next year. 

It really is an easier thing to do than what it might seem at first glance. As I said, you don't need to be super fit. You don't need really expensive gear. The infrastructure is there. There's loads of information out there on the net for how to set up. We have our own website, we've got all our specifications there if anybody wants to look at them. We're always getting asked questions about where to go and what to do and all the rest of it. But there are a lot of cyclists out there who have websites. There's a website called Crazy Guy on a Bike, which is where you can post your trips. It's very basic website, but lots of great information. So, yeah, just do it, try it.

Jim Santos 24:05 
What's your website?

Sharyn Nilsen 24:07 
Where? Catchourtravelbug.com. That's what I've been spending the last… I've actually just finished posting the 2019 American trip at the moment. The 2018 one’s there, the European one’s there, the Australian one’s there. Yeah.

Jim Santos 24:22 
I was wondering if there were like clubs or groups that have set up Facebook pages or YouTube videos online.

Sharyn Nilsen 24:29 
Yeah, lots of Facebook pages you can look up. Cycle touring France. Cycle touring Eurovelo 15, the Adventure Cycling Association in the States has a lot of resources. Eurovelo has a lot of resources and the individual countries, their cycling associations have a lot of resources. Like maps and planners and stuff. So it's all out there.

Jim Santos 24:53 
Yeah. As we've been planning, my wife and I, an Eastern Europe trip ourselves, I've been noticing a lot of tour companies are offering bicycle tours of different countries or bicycle tours of different cities.

Sharyn Nilsen 25:06 
Yep. And you don't carry any gear then, right. Just take your bike and cycle and somebody's taking your bags to the next hotel.

Jim Santos 25:14 
Yeah, that could be a good way to dip your toe in the water.

Sharyn Nilsen 25:17 
Yeah. Obviously a lot pricier.

Jim Santos 25:20 
Right.

Sharyn Nilsen 25:21 
I mean, I was really delighted. Switzerland is infamous for being hideously expensive, and between the house sitting we did in Switzerland and the cycling and camping, we spent less than $50 US each a day for a month in Switzerland.

Jim Santos 25:40 
Yeah, it's interesting. I was going to ask you about what these trips cost you.

Sharyn Nilsen 25:44 
If we're camping all the time and self-catering. In Germany, we had a few more meals out, more beers in beer terraces and stuff, but I just did the books a couple of days ago and it's still less than $50 US each for the month.

Jim Santos 25:58 
Are most of the campsites you have to pay for the spots?

Sharyn Nilsen 26:01 
Yeah. There's not a lot of wild camping in Western Europe, whereas in Scandinavia you can free camp. But in places like Germany and France, you're paying between $17 US and $30 US a night for two people in a tent.

Jim Santos 26:19 
And do the campsites normally have baths or showers or something for you can freshen up a little bit? That's mostly what you're paying for, I would guess.

Sharyn Nilsen 26:27 
Yeah. So you can get electricity. They all have WiFi. A lot of them have either a bar or a restaurant or a shop. That varies. And you just got to be a little careful. Some of the campgrounds are only for mobile homes, campervans, they don't cater for tents, but I would say 80% will take tents. And 99% of the time, even if they're full, they'll find your place. 

Jim Santos 27:00 
If you've just got two bicycles and a small tent, how about safety? When you're on the trails as far as road traffic and then also at night, I mean, do you lock up your bikes or bring them in the tent?

Sharyn Nilsen 27:10 
Some of the campgrounds in Germany have garages. You can lock them up. They warn you if you've got a new bike, electric bike, then be very careful. But our bikes are ten years old and we were laughing about it the other day. We actually cable lock them together to something like a tree, and then once we finished our beers, we kind of poke them strategically in the whole structure, and then we put the frames of our chairs through the structure. So if anybody tried to steal them while we're trying to sleep, create an awful racket. 

But when there's two of you, if we go to a supermarket, one will mind the bikes and the other shops, so it's a little bit easier if there's two of you. But bike theft is pretty rife in Europe. I've never heard of a cyclist being robbed at knifepoint or gunpoint or anything like that. Certainly not that kind of crime, chasing after cyclists. There's plenty of other people to rob if you wanted to, touch wood again. We've been to 139 countries all over the world and we've never had anything stolen, so we're going to try and keep that record.

Jim Santos 28:35 
That's a pretty good safety record, right?

Sharyn Nilsen 28:37 
Yeah.

Jim Santos 28:39 
So you're in Brussels now. What's the plan? What's the next step?

Sharyn Nilsen 28:44 
Well, we got three weeks here and then we've got to head for the coast. Being Australians, we're a bit like the Americans. We only get 90 days in the Schengen area. So we pop back to England, drop off the bikes. Our friends who mind the bicycles, they have four rescue dogs, so we always do them a favor and mind their dogs so they can have a holiday, which we'll do again. And then we're just trying to work out whether we're going to go back to Vietnam, straight to Australia, maybe drop off in the Middle East on the way back. But we'll head somewhere warm at the end of September and we'll come back again next May when it warms up.

Jim Santos 29:24 
So you try to spend, sounds like at least eight or nine months of the year on the road.

Sharyn Nilsen 29:30 
We're always on the road.

Jim Santos 29:31 
I mean, on the bike trails.

Sharyn Nilsen 29:33 
No, no, we won't take the bikes. We only spend a month or two with the…I mean, we have done like in the States, we did five months and two lots of five months. I think it was Australia was six months. But no, we're a bit over that. We like to mix it up a little more.

Jim Santos 29:50 
Do you see yourselves continuing these bike tricks the next 5, 10, 15 years?

Sharyn Nilsen 29:55 
I don't know about five or ten years, but certainly we're already planning what we might do next year and the year after. As I said, the infrastructure is so good here that we did the Rhine route. There's a Moselle route, there's a Danube route that kind of trundles through multiple countries following the river valleys. So they're normally very beautiful and quite diverse as you travel through the different countries. I think we'll probably do something like that again next year.

Jim Santos 30:24 
What would you say is the most rewarding part of using this particular method of travel and exploring?

Sharyn Nilsen 30:31 
We meet some really interesting characters. All the people who can't believe, what are you doing here on a bicycle? But there's also like-minded people who are on bicycles. We've met 85-year-olds cycling across continents and whole families with kids that they're homeschooling. They're taking the kids out on an adventure. So you just meet some very interesting people out there and we've made some really good friends doing it too.

Jim Santos 31:04 
Yeah, it sounds like a really interesting way to see the world.

Sharyn Nilsen 31:06 
Yeah, it is. And it gives you a whole different perspective on the world.

Jim Santos 31:11 
We've been talking with Sharon Nielsen about Sharon's December 2022 article, ‘A Cycling Adventure from London to Berlin’. Many thanks for sharing with us on Bigger, Better World, Sharon, and safe travels.

Sharyn Nilsen 31:23.89 
Thank you.

Jim Santos 31:33 
The Bigger, Better World podcast is a production of International Living. If you enjoyed this episode and you'd like to help support the podcast, please share it with others, post about it on social media, or leave a rating and review. If you have an idea for an episode or a question you'd like us to answer, email us at mailbag@internationalliving.com. And don't forget to put podcast in the subject line of your email. That's mailbag@internationalliving.com. 

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Newsflash: Bigger, Better World is going on the road soon.

As my wife Rita and I begin our COVID delayed plan to enjoy Roving retirement for a while, I'll continue to bring you weekly podcasts as we wend our way through parts of Eastern Europe, Spain and Portugal over the next few months. On our next episode, I'll be talking with a couple who started a beach club in Belize. Until then, remember, there's a Bigger, Better World out there just waiting for you.


A Starting Point: Over 50 House Sits on Four Continents
How Did the Cycling Thing Come About?
Enjoying the Slow-Travel Perspective
Gear, Accommodation, and Practicalities
The Eurovelo Network—Thousands of Bike Paths Across Europe
The Best Place to Take a Trip For New Cycle Tourers?
The Best (and Worst) Routes We've Ever Ridden
Websites, Blogs, and Resources For Planning a Cycling Trip
Where Next?