Two-wheeled wanderings in Europe

Multigenerational Family on a Biking Adventure in Europe
Philip McCluskey February 1, 2019

“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best.”

There is something about traveling on two wheels that introduces you to new and exciting parts of a destination, as the quote above from Ernest Hemingway so deftly puts it.

I was lucky enough to recently travel on a Vantage trip to Europe to take our deluxe bikes for a spin. This is by far my favorite mode of transport overseas, and it’s so easy on a river cruise. A group of us, led by our Concierge, would arrive in port and enjoy the myriad insightful tours and activities offered by our Cruise Director. When we had free time, we’d simply set off to discover more of the destination on a ride using the bikes we’d reserved in advance. Believe me, this was far better than anything my dad (aka, Santa!) slapped under the tree for Christmas morning!

I loved it immediately. First, it was the tail end of summer — is there a more glorious way to take advantage of the last lingering rays of evening, as the sun casts golden rays over some of the most resplendent landscapes you could imagine? Then, there was the access: We were able to see so much that we would never have seen otherwise. Biking was faster than traveling foot, more flexible than using a car or coach, and the city unfolded in captivating ways that complemented our other tours and experiences. There’s also an alchemy that takes place on a cycling journey: The exhilaration of exploration blends effortlessly with the endorphin-fueled invigoration of movement. Getting a little exercise sharpened my senses, lifted my mood, and enhanced my day.

I recall my time in Budapest (which you can enjoy in summertime on Majestic Rivers of Europe Wine Cruise: Castles, Cathedrals & Fairytales). Like many European cities, it was very bike — friendly – in fact, the paths had stoplights, just like the roads did for cars. Cyclists were given equal deference on the roads, meaning the experience is much easier. As I followed the paths along the winding Danube River, crossing the famed Chain Bridge, a refreshing breeze came in off the water as a smile spread across my face. As I pedaled, I looked up at Buda Castle, a hulking, historic edifice set against a blue sky, and that smile grew a little wider. What a perfect way to explore this iconic city.

Vienna (on a summertime Grand European Sojourn cruise) was a bit different. Sure, I loved riding along leafy avenues, admiring the baroque beauty of the Austrian capital’s impressive architecture that reminded me of its past as both a seat of empire (Austro-Hungarian and Holy Roman) and a hub of artistry. I echo the sentiments of the great composer Frédéric Chopin, who said: “Vienna is a handsome, lively city and it pleases me exceedingly.”

Yet it was when we turned off the city streets and onto a riverside trail that I realized just how wonderful exploring by bike could be. The sounds of the street subsided, and we rode alongside the river for a while before a burst of color caught my eye. Murals and other modern art all over walls to our left, with the river to our right. It was a wonderful counterpoint to the old-world grandeur we had seen already. Vienna, it was clear, was more than just its glorious past — it was a vibrant, colorful, and ever-evolving place with a many-splendored personality. It would have been easy to miss that without my bike!

I thought aloud about finding a place for coffee and a snack, before — voilà! — it appeared before us, as if Vienna had been listening. A place called Otto’s — a charming riverside café, tucked away where only bikes and those walking along the river could find it. We stepped inside: A kitschy nautical theme prevailed, as we immediately felt welcomed as our hosts (whom we presumed were the owners) brought us refreshments. As I laughed and recalled the highlights of the day with my fellow riders, a thought occurred to me: This was not necessarily what I had expected. But it was exactly what I wanted.


It’s so easy to reserve one of the complimentary bikes available and enhance your Vantage river cruise. You can learn more here.