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franklin county times

Biking across Europe: It was all I hoped it would be

By Staff
Smells and sounds that came from inside these homes were temptation to stop and knock on the door and ask if we could visit for a while. I realize now my previous visits, while wonderful, were like someone coming to the United States and visiting New York City and saying they knew about America.
On this trip, Eric and I opted for the comfort of hotels and pensions as opposed to camping. While this was much more expensive, it allowed us to experience a variety of interesting establishments.
Small rooms above restaurants and pubs, four star hotel suites, pensions on the square of small towns, rooms with balconies that overlooked the Rhine and rooms with window views of majestic mountains all had one thing in common a soft bed and a great shower or tub.
One of the rituals Eric and I had upon entering a new room was to see who could figure out how to flush the toilet. It seemed like everyone of them had a different way of flushing.
Some you pushed a button, or pulled a lever, or pulled a button, or pulled a cord or stepped on a pedal. All were different and offered a challenge.
In many of the places we stayed the manager was also the owner and many times the chief chef. We found that most owners could speak some English, at least enough to tell us they had a room.
When asking the cost of a room usually the price would be written on paper for us because we could not understand the price in French, German, etc.
Most rooms were equipped with TVs and some even had a remote control. Eric felt that a TV with a remote was a necessity. We watched replays of the World Cup Soccer almost every night.
One evening I found Eric sitting in front of the TV intensely watching a German talk show. I said "Eric, why are you watching that? You can't understand German." Eric answered in a matter of fact voice "Let's say I'm soaking up German culture."
Open windows, firm beds and big fluffy comforters made for wonderful restful nights.
Thirty years, ago on my first trip to Europe, I distinctly remember different foods and eating customs from what I was used to at home. Ice, hamburgers, regular water, fried chicken were not to be found.
This trip, Eric and I found about anything we could find in the States. Fast food restaurants are appearing everywhere. Service station convenience stores dot the roadside.
Most everything was available, but the problem was how to identify what you want. In a store we could see what we wanted, but in a restaurant most of the time we were at the mercy of a menu in a foreign language.
This provided many comical and sometimes frustrating moments. We were two hungry Americans trying to satisfy their taste buds and hunger pains with their budget.
I would say ordering in a restaurant was one of the greatest adventures of the trip. The only thing I know I didn't find on the whole trip was "grits," but that would be true if I were in Pennsylvania.
Many other things have changed in Europe since the establishment of the European Union. As of this year, the Euro is the only currency in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria.
No longer are there borders between those countries. No longer are passports necessary to show at most hotels. More and more English is being spoken. Toilet paper and ice are no longer unique items. In other words, Europe is becoming like America.
Traveling by bicycle provided my grandson and I the opportunity to meet and get to know people from all over the world. Within minutes friendships were developed. People waved from their windows as we passed. Bonjour, guten morgen, goeiemorgen, gun moang, jo reggelt would be their early morning greeting. We would respond with a smile and a wave.
We never encountered anyone who seemed negative or hateful. To share the entire wonderful things people did for us would take days, but special people and times do stand out.
We met Phillip (leQuesnoy), Andy (Nijmegen), Wolfgang( Vienna) and Stefan(Passau), who took hours out of their day to ride us through their towns to show us the historical sites.
Ken and Irmi Norman, formerly of Newton, opened their home in Kleve, Germany. Numerous people went out of their way, to offer water to two hot bikers.
Hundreds of people who stopped to look at our maps to show us the right, and sometimes wrong, way to go made our days exciting. The restaurant waitresses and waiters who helped us struggle through their menus all deserved the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval."
Our fellow bikers, whom we met on the bike paths, gave us encouragement and on-the-road fellowship. Franz, who stopped his work, took us back about 10 miles to a bike shop to get my bike repaired and refused to take any money for his help.
How wonderful were Claude and his wife and their twin sons who invited us to have fresh bread and juice in their beautiful backyard and also let us use their internet connection.
The people who unknowingly provided us with serendipitous moments with their songs, dance and/or performances made each day special. Most of all to the people back home who were following our adventures daily in The Meridian Star and weekly in the Newton Record whose prayers we felt everyday, we thank you.
Every morning, Eric and I prayed for God's guidance for that day.
Our prayers were that of praise for being able to share this experience with each other, insight into opportunities we would face that day, also the chance to share our faith with others and help for time we could not meet our needs with our God-given abilities.
Everyday we felt God's hand on us and we saw God open wonderful opportunities for us. God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.
In 1984, my son Rob and I rode to Disney World on bicycles. The next year Rob and I again rode bikes but this time to Niagara Falls, Canada. During the summer of 2000, my nephew Ashley Bailey and I rode bicycles across the United States.
This summer, my grandson, Eric, and I biked from Paris to Budapest.
I feel blessed with the opportunity to have had these experiences and to able to share them with so many people in civic clubs, church groups, senior citizen groups and schools.
All this could not have happened with the support of my wife, Dottie, and my family and Ashley and Eric's families.
The Meridian Star and the Newton Record took this private adventure and shared it with the wonderful people of East Mississippi. Through The Star's Internet Web site, people I met from all over the world were able to share this adventure.
Thanks to all of you.
Here are some trip statistics trip duration: 36 days; riding days: 30; distance: 1,600 miles or 2,574 kilometers. Number of flat tires, 0; number of bike repairs, three; number of countries, seven.
I think a credit card advertisement can summarize this trip perfectly. Cost of a hotel room, 56 euro; cost of a meal for two, 20 euro; cost of bike repair, 25 euro. Thirty-five days of riding a bike through Europe with my grandson: PRICELESS.

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