The Organic Traveller
Sunday, 23 October 2022

Travelling Europe by Bike (and Train): Munich to Venice

Many years ago I noticed a sign post in Munich: This way to Venice on bike. Since then the idea has been developing, and this summer I had almost sufficient time off to get on the road from Munich to Venice. Almost: To cross the Alps and the Dolomites comfortably, in style and on the same motorless bike used in daily city traffic five days are not enough. In addition, the weather forecast for my first day off announced heavy rains on the way from Munich.

MunichInnsbruck by train and bike

So we decided on a lazy start with a local train to Lengries in the afternoon. Starting off in perfect bicycle weather, we were soon caught by pouring rain. It turned out that on the German side, the bridge over the Walchen river was the only shelter on the route. The route itself followed a pattern common for all Bavarian bikeroutes I have taken so far: straight paved road for cars, much up and down and lots of gravel on the bikeroute. The reward: Breathtaking views over both, the Sylvensteinspeicher dam and the Walchen river.

bridge over the river Walchen

After the Austrian border cyclists are taken better care of: Most of the time the signposts guided us on separate or low-traffic ways, all paved. No need for a map or a GPS so far, all the way to Jenbach.

When we approached picturesque lake Achensee the rain had ceased but the sun already started to set. So there was no time to stop for an organic farmers' ice-cream ("Biobauernhofeis") at Seestraße, to the left of the gate to the public bathing beach at the Northern part of the lake and marvel its deserted beauty after the rain. So I'm really sorry I did not stop to map the ice-cream kiosk on OSM! A little further South I also noticed a shop advertising locally produced natural bodycare and organic herbs: Kräuterhüttl. Obviously, this is tourist land.

Instead we pedalled fast to reach a late urban train from Jenbach to Innsbruck where we arrived late. The twisting road downhill to Jenbach is steep – cyclists in Jenbach must be fit! In the dark and even though there was little car traffic at that time of the day it wasn't the fun it otherwise could have been. From Jenbach the urban trains S4 and S5 run by S-Bahn Tirol give cyclists a welcome and reliable shortcut all the way uphill to Innsbruck.

Brenner Pass and Puster Valley: Innsbruck–Terenten/Terento by train and bike

Given our tight time budget we decided to continue lazily the second day: The urban train S3 from Innsbruck to Brenner/Brennero is a comfortable shortcut for the tedious (and ugly) way uphill trusted by cyclists (not only lazy us). At the once nice border station between Austria and the Italian province of South Tyrol we waved good-bye to the ugly motorway E45 crowded with equally ugly cars.

Brenner pass bike route

From here: let loose and roll on, on the track bed of the old train line over the Brenner Pass. Easy. Pedalling started around Sterzing. Lots of cyclists on the way (including families), but there was not a minute without the constant noise of fossile-fuelled passively moved obese cars on the motorway, always within hearing range, often within eye-sight.

The bicycle route is all paved and usually guarded with railings, and there are frequent signposts. However, be careful and watch out for the red horizontal stripes on the pavement: They are marking serious bumps which can be dangerous at the good speed you may gain.

Unfortunately the route avoids habitated placed, so for food you have to actively leave it as you certainly do not want to pick off the apples or corn ears along the way: Almost all of them are treated with pesticides.

For the night my partner wanted to find a nice, eco-friendly hotel – and made the mistake to trust in Google. So we left the bike route at Niedervintl/Vandoies di Sotto in the Puster Valley for Terenten/Terento. 600 meters difference in altitude divided upon only six kilometres, a proper work-out for the evening. Taking the twisting road uphill was not nice even though most car drivers behaved properly. We met the public bus no. 421 from Vintl/Vandoies station via Terenten/Terento to Bruneck/Brunico operated at an interval of half an hour (two hours on Sundays) during the day: It was nearly empty in both directions.

Arriving at the hotel it felt like becoming the talk of the town, other guests were looking at us in disbelief: Up here without an engine? When you see this nice village depending on car-driven tourism the necessary change seems impossible. Depressing.

Puster Valley: Terenten/Terento–Cortina d'Ampezzo by bike

After a quiet night with a beautifully starry sky we took the nicer road down from Terenten to Kiens. Here we met a handful e-bikers on their way uphill before we set out on our third leg to Cortina d'Ampezzo. This part of the route through the Puster Valley is hilly (approximately one kilometre difference in altitude) and passes through towns and villages.

The iconic Drei Zinnen (Tre Cime di Lavaredo) peaks of the Dolomites

Most of the route is separated from motorised traffic but only partially paved. While the gravel parts after Bruneck/Brunico and along Lake Olang would be doable on a Dutch bike, the entire way from Toblach to Cortina with its breathtaking views on the UNESCO World Heritage of the Dolomites is a nuisance: gravel, gravel, deep gravel while the motorised traffic runs smoothly on the new-paved road within hearing range.

Interestingly, this leg of the route was the only part where oncoming cyclists wouldn't nod (or say) a greeting, not even return our greeting. The vast majority of them used e-bikes, probably car drivers no longer used to this comradely tradition of the hills.

On the pass at the border between South Tyrol and Belluno we decided to continue on the Strada Statale downhill as we wanted to reach Cortina before sunset: Apart from the constant danger of being steamrolled this road lives up to the standard other Italian long-distance bicycle routes definitely have.

Finally traffic congestion into Cortina and no way around for cyclists.

Cadore Valley, Piave river and the home of Prosecco: Cortina d'Ampezzo–Conegliano by bike

The fourth leg of the tour started nicely downhill on a paved separated bikeroute out of Cortina. At Località Socol the route u-turns to the left into the gravel nuisance of a hiking trail. Only after leaving the municipality of Cortina d'Ampezzo the route changes to a bicycle route worth the name.

bicycle path on the former Dolomites railway

The fun starts on the former railway line to St. Vito di Cadore, and continues along the Cadore Valley. Comfortable cycling with great views. The only point without a route sign comes when you have to leave the former rail line for the approximately one kilometre difference in altitude downhill to the bottom of the valley.

This is where you start sharing the road with cars, but no worries: The neverending stream of passive mobilists is now using a new motorway (of which you don't hear much noise), and the old Strada Statale di Alemagna 51, nicely paved, is only for you and your downhill fun, occasionally shared with you by a local car. The contrary wind helped to slow down downhill (and the oncoming pedalists uphill). Hopefully the road will continue to be maintained for cyclists.

Unfortunately the fun stops when reaching the lowlands. On the remaining route to Prosecco land signs have been put up less frequently and only on short stretches active mobility is separated from passive. The landscape itself is interesting: the scarse flat shaped by the river Piave, through industrial zones, along lakes. But don't be mistaken: it's hilly, with only short flat stretches. Our day ended with a gorgeous, partially organic dinner in Conegliano.

Through the Veneto: Conegliano–Venice by bike

The final leg of the München–Venezia bikeroute is flat, dry and hot (in August). The usual Veneto bicycle route mix: leisurely alleys in the shade along the river, here and there separated communal bikelanes of varying quality, shared traffic on not too highly frequented roads. The route is marked but often with small signs easy to be missed.

Ponte della Liberta with the skyline of Venice

We did not follow the route strictly but cut off here and there on local bikeroutes. Arriving in Venice by bike is a breathtaking experience: The railway and road bridge Ponte della Libertà ("Freedom Bridge") connecting Mestre on the mainland shore with the city of Venice itself has a dedicated bicycle lane, and you see Venezia St. Lucia approaching in front of you.

The bikes waiting for the ferry to the Lido of Venice

Bicycles in the waterborne city itself are naturally a nuisance, so we decided to stay on the Lido. Unfortunately there are no signs guiding cyclists from Piazzale Roma to the car ferry on the artificial island of Tronchetto. The ferry ride is an inexpensive pleasure – watch the city passing by from Giudecca Channel.

We did not take the bike back to Munich. Instead reliable Austrian Railways ÖBB gave us and the bikes a lift (to be safe we had bought the tickets and reservations well in advance).

Accommodation on the route

The route's official webpage has a directory of bicycle-friendly accommodations, but since you cannot simply search for a place its use is limited. More, (sometime the same) places can be found on the reliable Bett&Bike site run by Germany's bicycle association, the ADFC. Unfortunately none of these directories allows to filter for environment- and climate-relevant measures like organic breakfast, use of renewable energies or environment-friendly cleaning agents. These efforts towards sustainable tourism are taken into account by the EcoBNB platform.

Most other cyclists we met on the route had a tent with them, certainly the cheapest, but also the most uncomfortable way to spend the nights. We preferred to carry a minimum of luggage, and decided on a budget between 100 and 200 EUR for the night. Unfortunately this budget was too tight for the places I found where you probably could have a fully organic breakfast.

For the first and last stop, Innsbruck and Venice we booked accommodation upfront, but being unfamiliar with the route we decided on last-minute booking directly from the hotels.

The first night we spent at Hostel Marmota in Innsbruck. It has a spacious bicycle storage room in the basement which is locked during the night. Arriving late was no issue; even though the reception did not answer the phone. The bar did not offer any organic refreshments, but there was one type of organic tea and organic oat drink at the breakfast buffet. Clean, basic, no-frills room.

For the second night in the Puster valley my partner learned a lesson: Do not rely on Google Maps (personally I don't use Google services unless forced to): Even a few kilometers can be very long when they turn out to be uphill after a day on the bike. Our last minute booking call to Naturhotel Edelweiß in Terenten/Terento resulted in a very friendly price for a spacious, very nice, wood-furnished room including four-course dinner (for guests only).

The kitchen at this family-run hotel uses local ingredients, but isn't suitable for vegetarians. Also here the only organic items on the breakfast buffet were one type of tea and a plant-based drink (soy in this case). There's no storage room for bikes, but we were allowed to park directly in front of the hotel and turned out to be an attraction for car-dependent hotel guests.

Hotel Montana Cortina d'Ampezzo

Famous for hosting the winter olympics of 1956 the 2022 version of Cortina d'Ampezzo in the Dolomites turned out to be a single expensive (though still quite elegant) pedestrian street in the middle of a car jam which even us on our bikes forced into a stop-and-go. The most expensive night of our tour we spent in a basic room with plush furniture at Hotel Montana with a very nice view from the balcony and the air of past grandezza. In addition to the one variety of organic tea and organic soy drink (by now experienced as a sort of minimal standard) the breakfast buffet offered one variety of organic blueberry jam! The hotel was listed as bike-friendly, and indeed, we could store the bikes in a crammed storage room dedicated to the purpose.

Hotel restaurant Enrica Miron, Conegliano

The last night on the way to Venice we spent in Conegliano, at Relais Le Betulle which we found at at EcoBNB. Their hotel restaurant, Enrica Miron, serves organic meat and eggs, and we were very satisfied with our carte blanche menu of the day. The breakfast buffet however did not offer more organic items than we by now found usual. There's no dedicated parking space for bikes; we were allowed to take the bikes on the (spacious) room (which had sufficient space on the balcony), but decided to use a car parking lot.

To find a bicycle-friendly accommodation at the final destination, Venice, is not so easy given the aquatic nature of the city. Riding a bike is possible on the Lido, and from a previous bike tour through the Veneto (via Chioggia) we knew that the friendly, family-run Villa Casanova would allow us to park the bikes in its backyard. From that visit we also knew not to expect any organic items on the breakfast buffet (not even tea and milk), despite the fact that the hotel advertises partially organic breakfast. But the rooms are pleasant and the price is friendly compared with Venice standard.

Map of all places listed in this article

More to try

For the following hotels I found sufficient evidence for use of organic produce in the kitchen and/or a significant part of organic food and drinks at the breakfast buffet, but I cannot give an eyewitness account.

2022-10-23 13:00:00 [The_Conscious_Traveller, MuenchenVenezia, Germany, Austria, Italy, Munich, Innsbruck, Terenten, Terento, Bruneck, Brunico, Cortina, Alps, Achensee, Pustertal, Puster_Valley, Dolomites, South_Tyrol, Alto_Adige, Suedtirol, Belluno, eco, trains, bikeroutes] Link

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Sunday, 11 September 2022

Germany: Bremen and Lilienthal

The hanseatic city of Bremen is one of Germany's most bicycle-friendly cities and a destination of several short and long distance well-kept bicycle routes, among others the Weser bicycle route. Given the shortage of bicycle space in rapid long distance Deutsche Bahn trains it may however be challenging to get here by train with bikes, especially on short notice and during high traffic periods on summer weekends or school and public holidays.

The city has been climate- and environmentally (as well as socially) conscious for a much longer time than most other major German cities, and so you'll find probably many more interesting places than I am able to list here.

Public transport and bike rental

Bremen has a generally well working tram and bus system for which tickets are easily available from ticket machines inside the vehicles. As these ticket machines accept cash you can travel without additional carbon dioxide emissions generated by data tracking apps.

People in Bremen use the bike a lot: With many bicycle lanes, bicycle-first streets paved in red and virtually no hills it's convenient to ride a bike even with a Dutch bike and when it's raining. Compared with other major (German) cities most car drivers are used to bike trafffic and behave respectfully.

To rent a bike there are several app-based schemes. I prefer the friendly service of local bike shops which not only spares the climate for extra carbon dioxide emissions by privacy-invading data tracking, but allows for chats with interesting local people.

Unfortunately, the most convenient of them, the ADFC-Radstation at the main train station closed in 2021 in consequence of the covid-19 pandemics. So you have to invest half an hour or so to find one of the reliable bike shops with rental service during their opening hours. You may prefer to ring in upfront to make sure a bike is waiting for you (especially for the weekend). Prices in 2022 were about 12 EUR per day for a 3-gears Dutch bike.

Fahrrad Witt

Most of the shops I know of are in the bicycle-friendly neighbourhood of Neustadt: The Fahrradstation Neustadt (which I have not used yet) and Fahrrad Witt at few steps from the tram stop "Pappelstraße". The latter is very convenient as you can return the bike out of their opening hours: Lock it to a chain in front of the shop, put the key into the letter box and send a text to the shop. The number also works as a help line in case the bike is broken, even outside the opening hours.

Renting bicycles for kids is less easy, but the Bartels bike shop in Oberneuland will happily help you if you let them know in advance. The downside is that this shop is quite a way from the city.

1-2-3 Rad at Buntentorsteinweg also offers bikes for kids and youth (as well as tandems) but I haven't used them yet.

Map of all places listed in this article

Closed

2022-09-11 14:00:00 [The_Conscious_Traveller, Germany, Bremen, Lilienthal, Neustadt, Weserradweg, bicycle] Link

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Saturday, 18 September 2021

Travelling Europe by Train: Munich to Trondheim

The idea was simple: Instead of flying – why not travelling climate-friendly? Most certainly this would take some time, but travelling Oslo–BerlinParis took time for the famous painters, writers and artists more than a hundred years ago, too.

Upfront research showed that it would have been possible to reach Trondheim within a little more than two nights and a day during the summer 2021, but we were restricted to travel in the first half of September by the date of a family festivity, limited days off from work and the end of the Bavarian school holidays. With only 10 minutes connecting time in Hamburg and, in case of a miss, the next possible connection one week later due to change of timetables on the Swedish part, we gave up on the plan of the fastest possible route. Instead two additional nights, one in Hamburg, and one in Copenhagen, would not only give us a little leisure to re-visit these cities, it would also increase the amount of money to spend: If you decide to travel Europe by train and do not have all the time of a university break a reasonably priced Interrail ticket simply won't suffice.

Finally the travel itinerary came up to

Altogether four nights and about three and a half days involving six train companies – most of them not co-operating. Had we had the time and money for a return trip it would even have been possible to take bicycles on the tour (at least to the Norwegian border).

MunichHamburg: The Alpen-Sylt-Express

Amidst the covid-19 pandemic a new privately held German train company took the courage to re-establish over-night travel by train on the North-South line through Germany, one part of the train departing from Salzburg, another from Konstanz by the lake Bodensee to be united on their way to the island of Sylt via (among others) Munich and Hamburg. The train is operated two times per week and tickets can be booked online only. The company informed by e-mail that the departure of the train wouldn't be visibly announced at the train station, but sent time, platform and car location for all stations on the route.

With this information at hand I didn't get nervous when the display at platform 6 in Munich Ostbahnhof announced that all trains would depart from platform 11 or 12 (presumably due to the strike of the Deutsche Bahn train drivers in the summer of 2021). Some fellow passengers found out that this also applied to the Alpen-Sylt-Express, and the entire crowd moved over.

What didn't show up in time was the train by the time of arrival and not even by the time of departure, and as announced, there simply was no information. A helpful staff member of the Austrian train company ÖBB reassured us that the train would arrive here, and finally it appeared on the platform display and, by about half an hour delayed, arrived.

couchette of the Alpen-Sylt-Express from Munich to Hamburg

From now on everything went smooth (at least until we reached the Norwegian border). Due to the pandemic no strangers were booked into the former Deutsche Bahn couchette compartment which came at a price of 300 EUR for the two of us. The interior as well as the common wash and toilet facilities were clean, though a little worn. The almost doubly priced (or, in luxury class even more expensive) sleeper (with private room) is of French origin, and there's a very competitively priced seat car (starting at around 70 EUR).

On the train it would have been possible to order a pair of organic soft pretzls, organic tomato soup and organic porridge for dinner and breakfast, though no organic drinks.

Clean sheets were provided for all six sleeping places, and despite being a German train the proper way of sleeping was the Southern way wrapped into the sheet and covered with a blanket. Needless to add that in the couchette car you are expected to make your bed yourself. Complimentary drinking water to brush your teeth was not provided.

HamburgCopenhagen by DSB/DB

Danske Statsbanen (DSB) and Deutsche Bahn (DB) co-operatively run the city connection between Hamburg and Copenhagen via the Storebelt bridge, so buying tickets more or less spontaneously and without providing personal data, at a German or Danish train station usually shouldn't be an issue. The direct IC train runs four times a day to and fro and keeps waiting at the platform in Hamburg central station between arrival and departure. Unfortunately you aren't allowed on board more than fifteen minutes before departure – the train will be closed while the staff is having their break.

There are more connections where you have to change trains, but with almost all of them the journey takes around five hours.

The direct Intercity train is comfortable and – just as the night trains – has capacity for bicycles. Ticket prices vary, depending on whether you have a Bahncard discount card, as well as on how long in advance and where you buy it.

CopenhagenMalmö by regional train

Effectively an urban train line over the Öresund bridge tickets for the Öresundtåg regional train can be bought from the ticket machines at København H – anonymously as long as you see away from the card payment which is the most comfortable payment method if your stay in Denmark isn't long enough to use Danish cash.

Since we travelled during the covid-19 pandemic passports had to be provided in the train which stopped but was closed during the border control.

Snälltåget to Storlien at Malmo C station

Malmö–Åre/Storlien on the Snälltåget night train

As far as I know night trains between Stockholm and the Swedish-Norwegian border at Storlien have been running for ages, and quite recently the privately held Snälltåget has extended its network to Berlin (via Copenhagen and Hamburg).

During the summer we could have travelled MunichBerlin with Deutsche Bahn, with four hours the fastest train connection within Germany, and taken the Snälltåget from there, but as the Swedish company changed to their autumn timetable this connection did not work out.

The ticket for two in a private couchette came at 4000 SEK (about 400 EUR) and had to be booked on-line. Due to covid-19 restrictions the remaining four beds weren't filled up, but we were given all six complementary packs of drinking water. The choice at the restaurant car dubbed "Krogen" was limited due to the pandemic, and did not include any single organic item. Washing facilities in the couchette car are limited to the common toilet. The beds are a little wider than on the Alpen-Sylt-Express which might have been the reason for that my sleep was deeper and less disturbed during that night. On this train we were given duvet covers.

The train is provided at Malmö C in good time before departure, so we were able to board almost an hour before.

By the way: The train company's name, Snälltåget, is a play on words. The Swedish word "snäll" means "nice" and is a false friend with the German word "schnell" meaning "fast". Before IC and ICE trains took over the city connections in Germany, the then faster trains were referred to as "Schnellzüge", "fast trains".

Åre/Storlien–Trondheim: The last miles

What should have been a 1.5 hours train ride with the Meråkerbanen regional train from the Snälltåget's final destination Storlien to Trondheim, turned out to be a show stopper for climate-friendly travel as well as a tedious money sink.

When planning the journey in June 2021, the timetables of Meråkerbanen were still on-line, although we expected a rail replacement bus service due to the ongoing electrification work on the route (just like on our last train journey from Stockholm to Storlien in 2017). What we did not expect was that there was no public transport service at all! Locals told us that the connection has not been operated for the entire covid-19 pandemic, mainly because the Norwegian and the Swedish side wouldn't agree on the test and vaccine control procedure at the border.

So we had to hire a cab from one of the taxi companies in Åre: Taxi Åre did not have any cars left, but Topptaxi was willing to drive us from the train station of Åre over the border to the nearest Norwegian village, Meråker, at the hefty price tag of 2100 SEK. Due to an initial misunderstanding on behalf of the taxi operator we ended up paying only 1700 SEK for the 1.5 hours ride which would have been the price from Åre to the border. Given the fact that Storlien–Meråker would have been much shorter, this was probably a fair deal for both parties.

Since it was raining (the expected weather) we asked the taxi driver to drop us in front of the Coop Xtra hypermarket in Meråker where we could wait inside the "cafe" corner for the bus to Trondheim. A little more than an hour later we were heading over to the bus stop at Meraker school from where the bus no. 670 would take us to Trondheim. (Mind you that this 1.75 hours public bus service does not run on weekends.)

2021-09-18 16:30:01 [The_Conscious_Traveller, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Salzburg, Munich, Konstanz, Hamburg, Berlin, Copenhagen, Malmo, Stockholm, Storlien, Aare, Trondheim, eco, nighttrains, trains] Link

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Thursday, 15 January 2015

Germany: Berlin

2015-01-15 15:00:03 [The_Conscious_Traveller, Germany, Berlin] Link

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Germany: Dresden

2015-01-15 13:00:06 [The_Conscious_Traveller, Germany, Dresden, Elbe_cycle_route, Elberadweg] Link

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This work by trish is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. For commercial use contact the author: E-mail · Mastodon · Vero · Ello.