Trans Europa – Two Grand Tours In One
As you probably well know, and as the NY Times (known in some circles as one of the bigger sources of ‘Fake News’) has confirmed, TDA Global Cycling is the leading specialist in long distance bicycle tours. That means organizing such iconic trips as the Tour d’Afrique, Silk Route, South America Epic and Trans Oceania. It is puzzling to me that Europe, despite a long tradition of cycle touring – both supported and solo, has yet to enjoy the same amount of enthusiasm surrounding crossing the continent end-to-end – something that has become very popular here in Canada and with our neighbours to the south.
I say half, because the Trans Europe is actually comprised of two very old tracks; one used since antiquity and the other for least 2,000 years. You will discover evidence and relics of these all along the route.
The first half of the tour starts in Helsinki and follows the ancient Amber Trading Route. Amber, also known as the ‘gold of the north’, was collected in the coastal areas of the North and Baltic seas and then transferred overland to the Mediterranean coast. Check out the wonderful map on Wikipedia.
On the road you will find plenty of reminders of this trade and enjoy some wonderful opportunities to purchase amber products. The tour stops over in modern and vibrant cities like, Helsinki, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw, Kosice, Budapest and Ljubljana, places you can read about on the web or through our wonderful series on how to make the most of your time while you are there.
The conclusion of the Amber Route and the first half of the Trans Europa occurs when the tour hits the Mediterranean Sea at Venice, a historic city which certainly needs no introduction.
If you have signed up for the whole tour, you will get one day to explore Venice but if you have decided instead to join the second grand tour, which I call Via Romana, from Venice to Lisbon then you are in for a real treat as we revealed in a blog, ‘The Road From Venice To Lisbon; Cycling The Dream’.
What the blog fails to mention, however, are the numerous sites and reminders of the time this route, part of the 80,000 km paved road system of the Roman Empire, was used by soldiers, traders, performers, ambassadors, pilgrims, bandits, mailman and vagabonds.
How many people have heard or seen the spectacular Roman Amphitheatre facing the Mediterranean Sea in Tarragona? If you take the time as I once did and spend a few minutes there in the magical early morning just before sunrise, if you are lucky, you may hear echoes of ancient oratory, floating in on the coastal winds.
It was not only Romans who used these roads. Part of the route that connected Italy to Hispania, called Via Domitia, was used by Hannibal on his way to defeat the Romans in Italy. Old bridges, viaducts and ruins are spread all across the route. Some classics, such as the Aqueduct of Segovia and the Alcantara Bridge will mean you will have to use one, or both, of your rest days in Madrid to go and see them. The good news is that the fast train from Madrid to Segovia takes less time than my daily commute to work in Toronto. While on the subject of Madrid, when the Romans created a settlement here in the second century BC they called it Matrice. Today it is the 3rd largest city in the European Community and one of the most important art and business capitals in Europe.
Although one could spend many more days in Madrid, our Via Romana has a date in Lisbon. One of the oldest cities in the world, it predates other modern European capitals like London, Paris and Rome by hundreds of years. Julius Caesar made it a municipium called Felicitas Julia, adding to the name Olissipo, the ancient name of modern-day Lisbon, while the area was part of the Roman Empire.
What else is there to say? Perhaps a little Latin says it all: “carpe diem quam minimum credula postero” (capture the day put minimum trust on tomorrow)