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A tale of two tours

By John Gaul I am not a traveller. Moving to Sudbury eight years ago, in order to enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle in my retirement years, has suited me just fine.
A picturesque village hugs the shore of the Danube River. This week, John Gaul describes a journey that began in Austria and ended in Rome. Photo by John Gaul.

By John Gaul

I am not a traveller. Moving to Sudbury eight years ago, in order to enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle in my retirement years, has suited me just fine.

My wife, Brenda, and I are very happy living here and our life has been better than we imagined it.

However, she enjoys travel and I have always been curious about living a life in densely populated countries and so to be a good partner and to satisfy my curiosity I took the plunge.

We decided on two European tours as a good way to reduce my anxiety about foreign travel. The first was a ‘boat and bike’ cruise down the Danube River from Austria to Hungary. We joined six other friends from Sudbury, which made the tour even more appealing to me. The second was a tour of Northern Italy ending in Rome.

Our boat trip began at Passau, Austria, a wonderful city that is a tourist attraction in its own right with many things to see and do and a beautiful setting in a steep-sided river valley.

We boarded the MS/MV My Story and joined the 160 passengers, most of whom signed on for the cycling option.

We quickly settled into the routine of river travel. There were four scheduled bike trips and several optional tours during our eight days on the Danube.

With more than adequate time to ride the 40 to 70 kilometres to each destination, we rode through forest, farmland, villages, towns and cities, across flat land and over gently rolling hills.

The boat would be waiting at the end of each trip where the crew would relieve us of our bikes and store them on board. Non-cycling saw us take walking tours of the cities and towns where we were docked. The busy eight-day excursion ended too soon.

After a few days in Austria and Slovenia, we headed to Venice, Italy.

Arriving in Venice late one October afternoon, some helpful locals directed us to Hotel Mondial. After dining at a local restaurant, we spent the evening strolling through the streets around our hotel.

The next afternoon we met our tour group and our leader from Intrepid Travel, an organization which provides a low cost, lightweight, authentic and culturally sensitive travel experience.

As much as possible, we used public transit, ate and shopped at local establishments and did a lot of walking. Our leader would lead an orientation walk in each destination, taking care of all bookings and offering advice, and then we could wander around on our own.

Over eight days, we visited Venice, La Spezia (gateway to Cinque Terra), Florence (short visit to Pisa) and Rome. It was action packed and we saw and experienced a great deal in only eight days.

A little tiring for the older traveller perhaps, but I would recommend this trip for a healthy person under age 55. So which tour did we enjoy the best? The Danube Bike and Boat tour won by a small margin.

It provided the best value for the money and in our opinion most people would appreciate the contrast between the physical effort of bike riding with the first-class luxury of the boat.

I began this trip to Europe as a very nervous traveller; I ended it a much more confident one. If we could drop European cities on the Canadian landscape, Canadians would understand what they have been missing. We should learn from Europe with regard to city planning.

John Gaul is a Greater Sudbury resident who usually writes about his love for recreational cross-country skiing.