“Ever since the first time we came, we felt that this is a very different place and we wanted to come back” said two Americans who fell in love with the Europe. Since 2006 they were coming on again of again to the old continent. But Carolyn and Tyler have another passion. Cycling. They combined their love for travelling around by bikes and excitement about Europe. Now I would say they live a dream life. They are cycling around, making notes and as a result their first guidebook iBike WAWA – A Bicyclist’s guide to Warsaw is already available. They are a god team: Carolyn is a note taker, a trip planner and a map maker while Tyler carries the luggage and camera and does outwork communication. He also takes care for their website and blog. Now their focus is expanded to Slovenia. In 3 months they will make app. 3000 kilometers on small, backside roads in Slovenia. In the near future we can expect first and only bicyclists guide to Slovenia written by Americans. But why Slovenia? And how did they come up with the idea to write a guidebook for bicyclist at the first place? Read an interview and find more about their adventures and tips for young and old enthusiastic bikers.
Let them inspire you.
What attracts you here in Europe?
Tyler: It is different, it is not America. We like the European social model a little bit more than the US. Of course there are some things we miss about US. But we like it here.
Carolyn: You have very livable cities. We are very spread out, suburban; we have to drive everywhere, and what we love is the bicycle. Even cities that are not known as bicycle friendly, like Warsaw, for example, it is a hundred times better than most cities in the US. We like that part. And also the history, the culture and the diversity.
Tyler: And the typical approach to life. Europe is more relaxed in a lot of ways. You are very formal in a lot of ways that we are not. But at the same time, if you have a job, you get 4 or 5 weeks of holiday. For the same job in the US I would get 5 days in a whole year, maybe 10, if at the management level. Europe is a big place, countries are not the same. However, the approach to the quality of life is a consistently different than in US. You still have connections in small towns, to this quality of life where food is grown locally, where people go to the town square, get a coffee, and socialize. In the US, people got in a little ‘me’ box and they really don’t think about ‘us’ that much.
About your love for bicycles; when did this love started?
Tyler: I’ve been riding a bike since I was a little boy. I grew up in the country side where we had a network of streets, and a bike was my means of transportation. There were no busses. For me, the bike was a way to get somewhere. In a college, I got into mountain biking and then for a long time I didn’t bike at all. When I met Carolyn, she got me back to a biking.
Carolyn: Same thing - in childhood a bicycle was a ticket to freedom, a way to escape parents, and to meet friends. Then together we started mountain biking while living in a rural community in the US. When we moved to Netherlands in 2006, we sold our car in the States and bought old, used city bicycles. We soon realized that you can do that anywhere you live. When we moved back to the US, we bought bicycles instead of buying a car again, and that is where we are today with our passion.
Tyler: In Europe bicycle tourism is not the most common thing, however, it is not unusual. In the States people are completely freaked out: “What are you doing? Is something wrong with you? Did you lose your car?” Here is more acceptable. Europe is so small; why not go around by bicycle?
Carolyn: And together with the fantastic train system. That is a part of a reason, why we are doing it. Usually we were just cycling around the city and then we wanted to go longer distances in Poland. The countryside is beautiful but it’s very difficult to get there. You need a car unless you take the train.
slowed down for a bit while we were writing the guidebook for Warsaw. But now we are back at it as we travel around Slovenia.
How did you come up with an idea to write a guidebook for bicyclist?
Carolyn: When we first moved to Warsaw we again bought bicycles as that is how we like to explore the city. And once you get out of the city center, there are tons of nice roads that are not difficult to ride and are very low traffic. But there was not much information about it, especially in English.
Tyler: Even the information in Polish was incomplete and contradictory. On the map there would be a cycle road and if you went there, there was no cycle road. We started thinking we can’t be the only people to see this. Probably foreigners would be more interested than Polish people, so we started to write some of these things down. At one point Carolyn said: ‘We’ve got 20 good different bike rides we’ve done, I just need to refine them.’ And then it turned into 24 in the end.
And how goes the story about a guidebook for cyclist in Slovenia?
Tyler: Last year, when we were looking at this mass of information about Warsaw, we also did a trip from Prague to Dubrovnik. We wanted to see Czech Republic and we also wanted to go to southern Europe – Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria. We knew what to expect in Czech, Austria and Croatia. We had no idea what to expect in Slovenia. Because when you look at the roads at Google Maps you see these very clean roads. But when you come here, you see a spider web of roads! There are roads everywhere and I thought: ‘Man, this is going to be a mess.’ Another thing was that when I started mapping our route, Google said: ‘Warning! This road goes through Slovenia.’ And that was weird. However, when we got here in Slovenia, we were completely blown away by the natural beauty, friendly people, the quality of the back roads, and cycling through the mountains… It is really small and it is completely different from one side to another. And that is really cool.
Carolyn: At the same time we’ve seen some maps about cycling in Slovenia that was a good eye catcher for us. But it was not quite so easy to find the best routes. That is why we came back.
Tyler: Yes, and maybe we can help identify those roads and make them more consumable to the foreign market.
Carolyn: Especially longer distance routes because everything here is localized. This is good. People will come and do smaller routes. But if you do the connections people will spend a little more time across the country. Now people have to go to so many resources to find the information. We are hoping to contribute to bring all the information together.
Tyler: Here is also something that you may not see – it is so cheap comparing to Western Europe and USA. It feels like a very good value for money as Slovenians are very friendly, well organized as far as accommodations and it is a great place for cycle. For foreign tourists who come here it is a very good value.
You make a good point on your website that bicycle tourist creates five times economic impact of someone travelling by car over the same distance. Cyclist has to sleep, eat and spends more time in a country.
Tyler: You are not quite aware of that, right? We did not come up with this idea. But it is true. Besides, the more time spent in a place, the more things you get to see things and the more often you stop.
Do you have to be in a good shape to do a trip like yours?
Tyler: You have to be in some shape, but you do not have to be a super athlete to do it. That is what we like about it. However, in Slovenia you have to have strong legs as the roads are going up and down all the time. But you can go slow, plan and stop. Part of our idea is to make these routes with places to eat, sleep, things to see like churches, museums etc. Maybe we will cut down on churches, as you have so many of them. First when we came, we were blown away as they are all on the small hills and so picturesque.
About kilometers… We will probably make around 3000 kilometers in 3 months through Slovenia. Afterwards is writing, mapping etc. and then a guidebook. Writing a guidebook for entire country of Slovenia will be a bigger process than writing a city cycling guide for Warsaw.
As I see it, you have a dream life… But how do you make your living?
Tyler: We have a lot of savings that we were saving a lot of years to be able to do it. We are selling guidebooks, we sold an article recently. Now we are living from savings and we are hoping to invest in our future and try to have it pay us back at some time.
We’ve stayed in HI hostels
in other countries. I think it is sort of a brand name and you know what to expect. So far high standards and good hostels are also in Slovenia
. I’ve always trusted HI standards and I’ve never been disappointed. Wherever we go, we try to stay in HI hostel because we know it will be clean, comfortable and good quality for the price.
Tyler: If you stay in hostels it makes biking lighter as you do not have to carry camping gear.
What can happen during the bicycle tour like yours? Any traps, adventures?
Carolyn: There are three main highlights for me. There are the days when you are so tired, I mean physically. But then you hit some point when you see a beautiful view, or the sun shines after the rain…it’s this magical experience of being in the moment. Then there are the people. That is a huge part of it. People are so interested in you, even if you are just cycling by; you can see people stop, turn, and look. That is because we cycle on the back roads away from major cities. For example, just recently we’ve had an hour and a half conversation with a Hungarian guy in a language none of us really spoke.
Tyler: We have a lot of different experience. For example cycling in Israel. We met people who stopped with their car, offered us food, accommodation. We made many new friends; you are more approachable as a cyclist. And in Poland, when we arrived to a city that had 10 hostels and a camp, all was full as there was some concert. And the campground was not there. It was getting dark and it started to rain. We went on and noticed a camp fire and small pavilion. I asked if we can camp there. They said: ‘No, come with us.’ It was a summer camp for blind children and they gave us accommodation in the dorm. Those are important, small moments.
Carolyn: And there is a third thing: a sense of accomplishment at the end.
Tyler: Yes, when you think, you will not be able to do that. Especially going up some of the hills. Your body can do more than you think it can. But it is not a race, just have fun.
Is that kind of a travel also for youngsters? What would you advise them, if they decide to do a trip with bicycle?
Tyler: I think it’s great for youngsters.
Carolyn: They are fitter than we are.
Tyler: When you are young you are more tolerant to do with diversity, I think. People who are challenging themselves, who are interested in adventures outside the norm, for them it’s great. Slovenia is good for challenging yourself. It is inexpensive way to travel, meet other people and have exceptional adventure.