The thing about a trip like this is you don’t realize how far you’ve come until you’ve done something you once thought impossible. Then it hits you all at once. It was the case when we first sniffed the Atlantic Ocean in Maine and realized that, yes indeed, we did pedal our way across North America. And that same wonderful blend of surprise and pride surfaced again, sitting here in Tangier, after I finished putting the following map together.
It was a great three months, visiting seven countries for the first time (six for Kristin who had previously been to Scotland — we had both been to Germany previously) and, by and large, we had great weather most of the way (not counting Scotland, naturally). Anyway, our week off in Tangier has come to a close and we used the time to rest, tend to the bikes — for the second continent in a row, I suffered a broken spoke on the very last day of riding in Europe — and begin to acclimate to being in an Arab-speaking, Muslim nation for the first time in our lives. We’ll be spending the next month cycling to the edge of the Sahara and back, but before we start pedaling south it was time to take one last look back at our time in Europe.
There’s the literal look back at Europe, from an overlook above the medina in Tangier, a short walk from the shop we’ve been buying our groceries. Now for a more stylistic recollection of our European travels… (and you can thank me for not using “Holiday Road” for the soundtrack, as much as I wanted to).
Best viewed at 720p (click the gear icon) in full-screen. May not be playable on mobile devices.
No Schengen, No Problem
A little over a year before our departure, I learned about a thing called the Schengen Zone and the “Schengen Visa.” The Schengen Zone comprises most of the European Union (with exceptions like the UK) and Americans are only allowed to travel within this zone 90 of every 180 consecutive days (it never comes up in conversation due to the miniscule vacation allowance given by US companies). My mind went into a panic upon learning about this, as there was no way we’d be able to bike from Denmark to southern Spain and then all the way along the Mediterranean to Italy, Greece, and out via the Turkish border, as our original plans entailed, in under 90 days. I spent a long night at the computer devouring all the information I could find on Schengen Visa issues for Americans and, specifically, the punishments for over-staying. There were no reported cases of jail-time for overstaying, so we figured we’d take a chance. My plan was thus: The clock would start ticking upon our arrival in Denmark, so we needed to be out of Spain and into Morocco in under 90 days so that we still had room on the visa to get back in to Spain. We’d worry about getting an extension in Italy or Greece if possible, or hope to slip out of the Schengen Zone via Greece with a slap on the wrist.
It turns out all of my fretting was for naught, as we found a loophole in the Schengen process. The ferry we took from Harwich, UK to Esbjerg, DN had no border controls or immigration on the Denmark side. So, while we were scanned out of the UK (but not stamped out on our passports), we rode off the ferry and right into the streets of Esbjerg without every being stamped into the Schengen Zone, nor given a visa. I knew it was happening as we were in the queu leaving the ferry terminal and I couldn’t believe it. Not a minute later a cyclist also aboard the ferry turned around, knowing we were Americans from our talks aboard, turned and yelled, “You should have just gotten a Schengen Visa there!” Yes, we should have. But there was nobody to give us one.
Fast forward 2+ months to Tarifa, Spain. We hand over our passports, passports that contain a UK stamp and no indication of how we entered the Schengen Zone. Nothing is said, we’re scanned, waved through, and then we got our Moroccan stamp. We won’t be biking back along the Mediterranean after all, but still would have ended up going over the 90-in-180 policy. Instead, thanks to the lack of customs/immigration at Denmark’s ferry terminal, our arrival in Livorno, Italy should be our first official entry into Schengen Zone. We’ll see… Unfortunately, the ferry route we took across the North Sea was discontinued at the end of September (Denmark demanded cleaner, more environmentally-friendly, vessels and the ferry operator refused to upgrade his ships).
As was the case when we got to New Jersey, I also took this time to tally up the data and update our Countries Visited page with all of the route and expenses data for our time in Europe. As expected, we wrapped up the second leg quite a bit over our planned budget. We wound up having just as many days where we spent less than $20 USD as we had costing over $200 USD. We decided to go ahead and splurge and not worry about the budget too much while in Europe, knowing that we’ll be able to pull it back in line the further east we travel, starting here in Morocco. And, besides, good food and drink and the atmosphere that accompanies it, is just too big a piece of travel to ignore. I’d say it’s a major reason why we’re here. There’s a time for eating ramen in the woods, and a time for a night on the town. We enjoy both in equal measure.
Anyway, there’s a lot more explaining some of the costs and road conditions and whatnot on the Countries Visited page. We hope it helps with some of your own travel planning/budgeting.
Special Thanks: Our merriment will continue thanks to the wonderful generosity of some of our friends back in Washington. It’s always a treat to get an email from friends back home, and I was both thrilled and blushing to see the Paypal notifications generated by Brian Crowley and Ellen Maude. I met Brian and Ellen back in 2005 when I first started mountain biking in Washington and, over the years, have spent many long hours slogging up mountains on our bikes together (and even more hours in my Honda Element on road-trips to British Columbia and Oregon). Some of my favorite memories on a mountain bike were had in their company and I only wish they, and all my other cycling friends in the Seattle area (and my brother Joe in Colorado, who first got me started mountain biking) could be rolling south across Morocco with us now. We miss you all!