What Country Are We In Again?
Border crossings are a funny thing. They all serve the same purpose, but no two are ever exactly alike. They’re an essential, and often frequent, pit stop on most TDA tours, allowing us to explore a rich array of cultural landscapes. In some areas of the world, it can be quite an exciting experience crossing the border – a fun destination on the day’s route, a cool passport stamp, maybe even a good local interaction. Ideally, it is a pleasant introduction to the country you’re about to explore. Other crossings, however, can be a real pain in your chain. Whether it’s a problem with passports, loose luggage, long lines, or just catching the border officer on a bad day, it can put a real damper on your riding momentum. Everyone enjoys crossing the border, it’s crossing the border crossing that can be a little tricky.
Traveling through so many countries from the Balkans up towards central Europe, The Odyssey has enjoyed both the anxious thrill of border crossings, as well as the nonchalant ease of country-hopping without borders. Ah, the EU is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? No border patrol. No lines. No passports. No problem. The best part is that we still get to experience the vast and diverse cultures throughout Europe, without the hassle or hustle of borders.
Where borders are enforced down in the Balkan countries, we’d typically convoy our way through, as there tends to be power in numbers at border crossings. It’s the best option to ensure that all riders pass through securely and timely, and that they cross along with their luggage in the case of potential contraband. While this proved to be the safest choice, it tended to take up a large part of the riding day, and slowed down the usual pace for our faster riders. And while some of our border crossings went more smoothly than others, it felt like a luxury to be back in the EU, entering new countries freely. Ever since re-entering, riders have crossed into as many as 3 countries in a day, and may have even entered a new country without realizing it!
“I just love the diversity of going from country to country. That’s what I really liked about the Odyssey, is that you travel through so many countries and you can really feel the differences of each one.” – Rider, The Odyssey 2019
Touring Europe at the pace of a bicycle, you slowly start to notice the blending of different European cultures between its various countries. It may come as no surprise that the closer you get to a neighbouring country, the more influence it has in the landscape, but experiencing the progression on a town-to-town basis can be a marvellous journey.
The Italian city of Brixen, for example, which is situated near the border with Austria, has a heavily Germanic presence – evident in its abundance of spaetzle, Brauhausen, and, well, Germans (and Austrians). I stared up at the Fackwerk-style rooftops in shock and awe that I was still, in fact, in Italy. In the words of a local, “it is where the Italians go to feel Austrian, and where the Austrians go to feel Italian.”
Where other nations might put up a strict border, stating a definitive start and end point for its cultural influence to expand, the beauty of Europe is that it allows us to see these blended landscapes that breed a new hybrid culture all their own.