Thursday, February 23, 2006

Route planning, part 2: detailed route planning.

Aha. So by now I knew what I wanted to do. Lisbon to Istanbul, simple, right?

Now came the fun part: figure out exactly how to do it.

I knew, of course, that I would be passing by the great capitals: Madrid, Paris, Berlin, Prague, then somehow down to Istanbul. But as to what exactly was to happen in-between was rather vague. So the first thing I did was to check out the UNESCO World Heritage Site list for the countries I was going to be passing through. In my experience, it is good to plan a trip by these sites. Oftentimes they are located in small, off the beaten track villages and roads, that may not always find their way into the typical guidebooks, but it is always worth checking them out, particularly because of their historical and cultural importance. What better way to get to know a country, than by getting to know and see first hand its cultural heritage.

So, I copied the list for the countries of Western Europe: Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, Czech Republic, and then picked the most likely Eastern European countries I was to travel through on the way to Turkey by simply avoiding questionable zones like former Yugoslavia. Sure, call me paranoid if you like, it is probably quite safe now, blah blah blah. But remember first of all at the moment it still looked like I was to be travelling alone (so not a good idea to take the any minimum of unnecessary risks), and places like Croatia and Serbia still have land mines lying around and I would not like to have an unhappy encounter with any unpleasant situation of the sort while traipsing around in my bike after a wrong turn, a distraction, or an inaccurate map. So I settled for Istambul from Prague by way of Vienna, Budapest, Romania, and Bulgaria, the last two countries' routes still a bit undecided (Romania is basically surrounded by the Carpathians in a type of inverted "C"-shaped mountain range, and cutting across from Cluj-Napoca to Bucharest would mean crossing the mountains twice, a rather exhausting thought!).

Anyway, armed with the list, I bought a big map of Europe and painstakingly marked the 160+ World Heritage Sites in the 11 countries I expected to pass through. The rest was easy: detailed route planning now becomes a simple problem of optimization, namely a variant of the travelling salesman problem. Complicated for a computer to solve, but trivial for a human armed with a thick black marker intent on avoiding crossing mountain ranges.
The result: a fairly straight-forward route passing (more or less) through Lisbon, Oporto, Santiago de Compostela, Lugo, Oviedo, Leon, Salamanca-Avila-Segovia, Madrid, Cuenca, Valencia, Tarragona, Barcelona, Carcassonne, along the Canal du Midi to Montpellier-PontduGard-Avignon-Orange, Lyon, Fontenay, Paris, Nancy, Reims, Trier, Aachen, Köln, Essen, Eisenach, Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Prague, Kutna Hora, Brno, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Cluj-Napoca, Sighisoara, Bucharest, Madara, Varna, Istanbul. The last few countries, of course, still left vague and TBD for the reasons aforementioned.
That there are several sections left TBD is no cause for worry, the plan is to get updated maps/info/guides as I travel (who can carry all those guidebooks while pedalling anyway, they'd be more than a third of my luggage weight!), and additionally the routes may get varied depending on the whereabouts of some of the current Europe-living friends at the moment (luckily, in college, my brother and I used to hang out with a rather international crowd, and the resulting network of friends is fairly well geographically extended).

1 comment:

pearl said...

Oh so lucky! I'm very jealous! Hmmm I should watch and learn, and see how it's done so I can do it in the future!