With its new programme generation and the Green Erasmus project, Erasmus+ strives to raise awareness on the topics of sustainability and climate change, as well as to empower students to take sustainable actions before, during and after their mobility. One way to embrace this movement is green travel, namely the use of sustainable methods of transportation to reach the exchange destination. What is greener than riding your bike from France to Austria to spend your mobility at AAU? Our Erasmus+ incoming exchange students Emile and Thomas from the INSA Rennes (France), who have spent the winter semester 2022/23 at AAU, told us in an interview about their experience.
Why did you choose the University of Klagenfurt as the university to spend your semester abroad?
We have chosen AAU to spend our semester abroad due to its great location near the Julian Alps and different border countries. We also wanted to take a bike trip in Europe when choosing the destination. That’s why AAU fitted well with our desires.
What was your main purpose in taking up the challenge of reaching Klagenfurt by bike?
One of the main reasons we decided to bike from Lyon to Klagenfurt was to challenge ourselves. We also wanted to see if we could make the trip using only green transportation with all our stuff necessary for 5 months abroad. Finally, we saw it as a good opportunity to experience the beauty and the culture of the different regions in a unique and memorable way instead of reaching our place of mobility with other means of transport.
How did the idea come up?
Our friends, Maxime and Victor, who had already done a bike trip in Europe inspired us. We had previously done some bike touring along the Brittany coast with them, which was a lot of fun. Those trips were only a few days long so we wanted to experience a longer bike trip. As we have to do a semester abroad, we took this opportunity to travel by bike.
How did you go about planning your bike trip to Klagenfurt (and did everything go according to your plan?)
We planned to cycle 80-90 kilometres on average each day. We transported and slept in a tent with sleeping bags and mats and ate with a camping stove.
About the journey, we started our bike trip in Lyon in France, and from there we took the ViaRhona to Switzerland. We crossed Geneva and rode along the Leman Lake to Lausanne. From there, we travelled through the hinterland of Switzerland, taking in the stunning landscapes of the high Alps and some of the country’s most beautiful places, including the Lauterbrunnen valley and Mürren. As we made our way through Switzerland, we passed through Lucerne and rode alongside countless lakes, eventually reaching Constance Lake, the crossroads between Germany, Switzerland and Austria. From there, we continued on to Munich, taking a detour to Füssen and its famous castle, the Schloss Neuschwanstein. We took some time to explore the city and even attended the Oktoberfest for a few days before setting off again, this time heading south of Bavaria to discover Hintersee and Königsee.
We ran into some unexpected events along the way, such as a dead phone and a broken wheel, which forced us to take a different route and go through Salzburg. But despite these setbacks, we were able to complete our trip, crossing Austria from north to south and passing through the Gosau valley and its lake, Gosausee, Hallstatt, and the last hard pass, Sölkpass. It was already snowing at the top of this pass in September, making it a challenging but rewarding end to our journey. Then, after a few remaining kilometers, we reached Klagenfurt.
Are you both regular cyclists?
Emile is not a regular cyclist, but Thomas is.
How long did it take you to reach Klagenfurt and how many kilometers did you ride?
It took us about 1500-1600 kilometers to reach Klagenfurt. We cycled 20 days with some rest days ; we stayed one day in Lauterbrunnen for hiking and 3 days in Munich for Oktoberfest.
What is your best memory of this trip? The worst?
One of our favorite memories from the trip was when we reached the Lauterbrunnen valley in Switzerland. The view was absolutely breathtaking, with the towering mountain, the cascading waterfalls and straight cliffs. Another memorable moment was when we stopped in Lucerne for a break. We met Marty, a Swiss gin lover, while searching for yogurts in a supermarket. He invited us to his home for sleeping. We had a great time chatting with him and Marc, his roommate. We also tasted his collection of good gins.
But perhaps the most unforgettable experience was when we reached the top of the Sölkpass in Austria. We were the only ones on the road as the crossing of an unexpected forbidden lost canyon just before, the Salza-Stausee.
On the other hand, one of the worst moments of the trip was when we got caught in a heavy rainstorm near Leman Lake. It was the first rainy night of the trip, and we were not prepared for it. The storm lasted for hours, and the strong wind battered our tent. It was very uncomfortable, and we were not sure if our tent was going to hold up. We can also cite unexpected events near Salzburg with Thomas’ dead phone and Emile’s broken wheel on nice rainy couple of days.
Which means of transportation are you planning to take to get back to Rennes?
We will take buses and trains to return to France in February. It could have been nice to cycle back. However, the time is limited because we have to do an internship and the weather conditions with snow and sub-zero temperatures are harsher at this time of the year.
If you had 3 words to describe your experience of mobility so far, what would you say?
We had the opportunity to meet locals along our journey. This was one of the most rewarding parts of our trip, as we were able to learn about the cultures, customs, and history of the places we visited. The locals were also very helpful, offering us directions, advice, and even food and shelter or a bed in some cases. We are grateful for the connections we made and the insights we gained from these encounters.
It was an incredibly rewarding experience, both in terms of the beautiful landscapes we got to see and the welcoming people we got to meet. Although we ran into some unexpected events, every day was rewarding from the stunning Lauterbrunnen valley in Switzerland to the top of the Sölkpass in Austria. Unexpected encounters were also rewards of hard days thanks to farmers who gave us a place for our tent in front of great landscapes or a couple of bakers who invited us to sleep in their home.
The trip was definitely adventurous, as we were exploring new places and experiencing new things. We were constantly pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone, whether it was trying new foods, navigating unfamiliar roads, or camping in the wilderness. This sense of adventure and excitement made the trip all more enjoyable and memorable.
Why would you recommend INSA students to spend a semester at AAU?
We would highly recommend students to spend a semester at the University of Klagenfurt for several reasons. Firstly, the university offers a wide range of courses in various fields in English, from business and economics to engineering, sciences, and humanities. This allows students to explore new academic areas, which can help them expand their knowledge. In addition, the university has an international atmosphere, offering a unique opportunity to meet people from different countries and cultures. Furthermore, AAU has excellent facilities and offers a variety of activities and services, such as sports and leisure activities, cultural events, language courses, and student support services. This provides students with the chance to make the most of their time while studying abroad. Finally, the university has a great location in Austria, a beautiful country filled with stunning landscapes and rich culture. Klagenfurt is also well-centered in Europe in order to discover border countries such as Slovenia, Italy and Hungary. The Triglav national park is about thirty kilometers away with its breathtaking landscapes and hikes.
And why would recommend AAU students to spend a semester at INSA?
INSA Rennes is an outstanding educational institution that offers a wide array of academic and extracurricular opportunities for students. INSA Rennes provides top-notch education, consisting of excellent teaching staff, comprehensive courses, and access to cutting-edge research. Its excellent faculty members bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the classroom, allowing students to gain an in-depth understanding of the subjects they are studying. The institution also offers access to state-of-the-art laboratories and modern facilities, giving students the opportunity to engage in advanced research activities.
Along with its outstanding academic programs, INSA Rennes also offers a vibrant student life. The campus is home to numerous student clubs and organizations, providing plenty of opportunities for students to meet new people. A variety of cultural and recreational events are also organized such as Rock’n’Solex.
Furthermore, spending a semester at INSA Rennes, allows students to fully immerse themselves in the culture and lifestyle of France. The university is located in Rennes, a beautiful city with a rich history and culture. Students can explore the city’s historic sites, discover its unique cuisine, the Galette Saucisse, and take part in its diverse cultural activities. The entire Brittany coast is also easily accessible to discover great landscapes.
AAU and INSA Rennes hold an Erasmus+ agreement in the field of technical science. Despite it being a young partnership, it has been very successful and we are looking forward to further fruitful cooperation!