An ongoing series of reports, articles, and news items about the Arlington
Sister City Association's programs and activities, plus news from its Sister Cities

                 December 6, 2017
From the Mountains to the Sea: 20 Countries of SisterBike

by Bernard Chapnick

In 2017 the SisterBike program added two more (19 and 20) to the number of countries its participants have visited in this annual long-distance cycling tour of Europe. SisterBike XVII went from the Julian Alps (also known as the Dolomites) to the Adriatic Sea - from the South Tirol of Italy through Austria and Slovenia (a whole lot of Slovenia!), back into a weird corner of Italy, and ended at a beach resort in Croatia. Along the way there were excellent bike paths, a little bit of gravel, a few hills and spectacular scenery, and zero flat tires or accidents or injuries! We had two standout dinners in castles, a truly memorable gourmet food and wine evening in an Austrian "slow food" gourmet shop, and, of course, a farewell dinner that rated up there with some of the best ever.

A wine evening in an Austrian "slow food" gourmet shop

The bikes and support staff were excellent, the hotels were very good, and we had lots of saunas. A special thanks to Marko on the FUN-ACTIVE support staff who knew the routes and spoke German, English, Italian, Slovenian, and Croatian - and who could pack all the bags into his van with speed and good humor. SisterBike is an overwhelmingly popular program. Several regulars did not participate in 2017 for a variety of reasons, which was a two-edged sword: they were greatly missed, but it made room for some interesting first-timers. This sets up the possibility of an oversubscribed next edition of SisterBike XVIII in Alsace....

SisterBike participants enjoying the Slovenian countryside

Slovenian Capital a Standout

Of the many pretty towns we visited, Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, had to be the standout - everyone loved it! We spent two nights there and had a great dinner in the Archers' Tower of the castle our first night. On our second night we joined the Friday "Open Kitchen" festivities, in which local chefs cook their specialties in the town square. Taken together with the many excellent Slovenian wines, it was a numbingly delicious day. Almost none of our group had ever been in Slovenia before and there was unanimous pleasant surprise at Ljubljana.

SisterBike crew getting ready for a meal at Das Ist Walter restuarant in Ljubljana

To be honest, we should not have been so surprised. The Lonely Planet guidebook says, " Slovenia's capital and largest city also happens to be one of Europe's greenest and most liveable capitals. Indeed, the European Commission awarded Ljubljana with the coveted Green Capital of Europe title for 2016. Car traffic is restricted in the center, leaving the leafy banks of the emerald-green Ljubljanica River, which flows through the city's heart, free for pedestrians and cyclists. In summer, cafes set up terrace seating along the river; it almost feels like a nightly street party."

Historic streets of Ljubljana's old town

Camaraderie Is Key

As always, camaraderie is the key to SisterBike. Each trip renews and strengthens old friendships, while also introducing first-timers to the team. There is no need for me to use gimmicks to encourage German-U.S. friendships - they sprout spontaneously!

Enjoying the mountain scenery at one of many road roadside vistas

To wrap up this report and excite you about the next trip, here is a tentative itinerary for SisterBike XVIII. One fun item - we loved the funicular up to the Ljubljana castle and I have already planned the farewell dinner menu for the best restaurant in Freiburg. As an added plus, it is on a hill - reachable by a funicular! The menu I have reserved in that restaurant includes shrimp salad, lobster ravioli, roasted Angler fish, and roasted lamb noisettes. If these do not make your mouth water, I do not know what will. 

SisterBike 2018 route

Tentative Itinerary for SisterBike XVIII (October 2018)

Day 1, October 16: Freiburg
Individual arrival in Freiburg. This sunny town in the foothills of the Black Forest has a lot to offer: a lovely, historical town center with picturesque alleys, the famous Freiburger Bächle, and cultural and historical monuments like the minster and numerous wine and snack bars where you can fortify yourself before your bike tour. We will stay at the Hotel Central.

Day 2, October 17: Freiburg to Endingen (approx. 33 km)
We start our first bike tour beneath the vineyards of the sunny Kaiserstuhl (Emperor's Chair). The region is one of the sunniest in Germany. Today's destination is the medieval framework town of Endingen. We will overnight at the Hotel Garni Pfauen and have dinner at Schindler's Ratsstube.

Day 3, October 18: Endingen to Rust (approx. 34 km)
Via the wine town of Sasbach we will reach the banks of the Rhine, then continue through green meadows alongside the river and travel a short stretch on the Rhine dyke towards Rust. This small town in Baden is known for the Europapark, a theme park with many attractions. We will stay at the Hotel Rebstock, with dinner at the hotel.

Day 4, October 19: Rust to Strasbourg (approx. 47 km)
Once again we will travel along the Rhine, with the beautiful backdrop of the Black Forest on our right. The beautiful Alsace city of Strasbourg with its attractive town center is the highlight of the day, as well as our overnight location. We will stay at Hotel Diana Dauphine and enjoy dinner at L'Alsace à Table.

Day 5, October 20: Strasbourg local touring
No biking today, as we will have a guided walking tour of the city, including the European Parliament, in German and English. We will again stay at Hotel Diana Dauphine and are free to make our own dinner arrangements.

Day 6, October 21: Strasbourg to Obernai (approx. 57 km)
In the morning we will have sufficient time for more sightseeing in Strasbourg before we cycle along the Euro Bike Trail to Molsheim, home of the car manufacturer Bugatti. From here on we will be traveling along the Alsace wine road. This day's destination is the pretty wine town of Obernai, where we will spend the night at Hotel La Diligence and dine at La Halle aux Bles.

Day 7, October 22: Obernai to St. Hippolyte (approx. 35 km)
We will continue southwards on the Route du Vin along an attractive stretch of road that will take us through lush vineyards and past lovely Alsace towns with beautiful and colorful truss buildings. Via Dambach-la-Ville we will reach St. Hippolyte, uniquely located beneath the majestic Hochkönigsburg castle. We will overnight at Hotel Munsch aux Ducs, with dinner at the hotel.

Day 8, October 23: St. Hippolyte to Colmar (approx. 29 km)
The last day on the Alsace Wine Road will take us through romantic towns, where medieval alleys invite us to stroll. As we continue to Colmar we will explore the beautiful truss houses in Gerbergasse or the world famous Isenheimer Altar in the Unterlinden Museum (included). We will spend the night in Eguisheim at the Mercure Hotel, with dinner at the hotel.

Day 9, October 24: Colmar to Freiburg (approx. 60 km)

On our final day of cycling we will bike through the Rhine plain, passing Breisach, and arriving for our final night at Hotel Central. We can expect a magnificent farewell dinner at the Schloßburg Restaurant.

Day 10, October 25: Freiburg
The tour ends after breakfast.

Bernard Chapnick is the son of immigrants from Brooklyn to Biafra, retired foreign service officer, restaurant owner, cycling enthusiast, and transatlantic interlocutor. His Aachen connections thrust him into the center of Arlington's sister-city relationship with Aachen. He founded the modern SisterBike program in 2003.

The Arlington Sister City Association (ASCA) is a nonprofit organization established in 1993. ASCA works to enhance and promote Arlington's international profile and foster productive exchanges in education, commerce, culture, and the arts.