Perhaps we all need a bit of contrast in life in order to appreciate things more!
I went for a cycle today and I LOVE Germany for many reasons and one is for its cycle paths - see photos below. I used to cycle to work in Dublin and during the PhD in Galway as well. I cycled when I was small and I loved it. I grew up on a quiet road in Limerick (now it is not so quiet). I would go out and cycle up and down the hill outside the house and down the back of the avenue near the racecourse. It was lovely and then I fell off my bike. I hit my head, there was blood everywhere and a neighbour brought me into the house where I was still gushing blood everywhere. I don't remember much apart from not being able to stop the bleeding. I remember going to the hospital and getting stitches. I was off school for a week with a bandage that went all around my head. I had cut open my eyebrow and still have a scar from it. Apart from that I stopped cycling. I didn't do much. I was still using my sister's bike at that point too. I didn't pick cycle again until years later.
I arrived in around 2008 to Dublin and bought my own bike. It was a fold-up bike and I was living in the suburbs so I thought I'd be able to cycle it. Dublin was far too dangerous though. I didn't have the wherewithal to carry a whistle like some cyclists and get aggressive where needed. I'd watch some cyclists zoom in and out between the cars with ferocious speed. They dominated their space and they were not afraid to let the cars know that they were intruding on the small gutter that was at the edge of the road that they cycled in. Soon Dublin had cycle paths which were only lines draw on the existing roads to show that cyclists would be cycling there - see some photos below. It didn't help much. There wasn't much space. So I didn't cycle and I ended up giving my bike to my flatmate at the time who said that she would use it.
Cut to 2012, I was now in Galway for the PhD and I was in a car accident. I wasn't in only one accident but three in a row and I sold the car. I had a back injury that kept me awake during the night with discomfort, I slept with heat pads on my back and I had continuous treatment with physiotherapy. She advised me to do two things to strengthen my back muscles which were, cycling and swimming. I had to learn to swim and then buy a bike.
I went for some swimming lessons before the storm in 2012 reclaimed the swimming pool in Salthill in Galway into the sea and that was the end of that. While I stopped the swimming as there was now no pool, I kept cycling and cycled in and out to the NUIG campus right up until December 22nd. I slept a little better and my back muscles started to strengthen. The winds were violent and most of the rain was beating off my face most rides but I never regretted the cycle in - as long as I had my wet gear on. It was refreshing and I was awake by the time I got on campus. It definitely got the blood flowing being out in the wind and rain but arriving in dry after delayering! I loved it. I had a €100 euro bike that was an old rental bike - see photo below and I loved that bike. It was old, it was heavy and the first cycle I couldn't make it up the hill to the apartment in Knocknacarra but soon after a few weeks I was cycling up and down the hills in Knocknacarra without any issue.
I then moved to Dublin in 2015ish where I decided I'd cycle in and out to work in Kobo and if it was really bad weather I could shower before work. They had facilities in the office such as a gym downstairs as well as a changing room and showers. It was ideal. I rented a bike in the morning with the Dublin Bikes scheme on the north side of the city and then I'd drop back on the south side in a Dublin Bikes station nearby the office. I didn't need to buy a bike at all. I rented it usually for 25 minutes in the morning and 40 minutes on the way home - it seems like a mismatch as I took the same route but the cycle home was full of traffic and knocking on car windows to make sure you weren't squashed. See photo below for the route to show no cycle lanes in Dublin.
Cycling in Dublin is taking your life in your hands - I needed to wear a high visibility jacket of some sort, a helmet and anything else to make sure that I are seen. If you are not used to cycling within a few centimetres of cars and knowing their blindspots then it is very risky and uncomfortable. As for cycle lanes, well, there aren't any really. I cycled O'Connell bridge with three lanes of traffic - no cycle lanes and you cycle in beside the buses too - the huge, gigantic double-decker busses. It's no joke and you'd want to make sure you have eyes that are on the back of your head as you look to see if a bus has just pulled out or not. It's exciting and at the same time it's something that you need to be aware of all the time. I didn't buy a bike in Dublin. It was all for the commute and I would say not an easy cycle. You are on alert the entire time making sure no taxi/bus runs you over.
In contrast then I come to Germany in 2017, I buy a bike in 2018 and I cycle it a lot. I love cycling here, there are cycle lanes and even the entire way to the city there is a cycle lane. Galway also had cycle lanes and some were off the road too which were a pleasure to cycle in and out to campus. In the city itself it was a different story, on the old bridge into the city barely pedestrians or buses would fit together at the same time. Anyway, Germany with the cycle lanes and you can cycle for over an hour, it's not a short little 3km cycle path in Galway that I mean, it's a full route. The cycle lanes can be off the road too and under beautiful trees where leaves touch each other as they lean in to meet in the middle. It is absolutely beautiful. I mean even the ones on the roads have space, you aren't thinking to yourself - oh no, I've to knock on a window or stop cycling or jump off the bike quickly at any point. It is pure pleasure.
So maybe we all need a little contrast in order to appreciate the things we have. In some cases its cycle lanes, in others it's the beautiful weather in Germany because I am coming from a country which can rain in the west up to 225 days of the year. It's the appreciation of my health now that I have it and I cherish it, I don't think I will ever take these things for granted again. It's not until you go through the rough times that you appreciate the good. It's also important to recognise all those past experiences be it a trivial one like cycling or something else in order to recognise how far that you have come. Now don't get me wrong I loved cycling in both Galway and Dublin but the culture is different. It isn't a cycling culture in Ireland.
The culture of cycling is starting to develop in Ireland but in Germany they make bikes and have a culture that everyone uses a bike. In some cases in Ireland it's seen as being dirty - some say what about sweating - others say it's too dangerous, others have other reasons but they are not the same as here. Here everyone seems to cycle, I did notice not as many use helmets but they have more cycle lanes. Not everyone wears high visibility jackets, but they have separate cycle lanes. Not as many need to light up their bike like a Christmas tree in winter due to the darkness, because the lights are on both sides of the roads and usually you are cycling on the cycle lane. It's completely different in Ireland and Germany so there is no comparison.
While you cannot compare these two countries in terms of cycling facilities and cycling culture, when you enjoy cycling and then go to a country with the right facilities for cycling, you cannot help but admire, appreciate and adore the presence of these beautiful off-road cycle lanes. So maybe we need a bit of contrast in life to appreciate what is in front of us, and when we can't appreciate what is in front of us at that exact time then keep in mind that there is always rainbow after every storm, there is a good day after every bad days and spring comes after every winter.
Either way you look at it, those contrasts make me appreciate things even more. I love Germany, I love the cycling culture and I love the outdoors. It is so refreshing and invigorating to be able to run in the forest or cycle on a cycle path, here there are actual summers too. It's beautiful. Absolutely beautiful, I appreciate every day and every moment that I can go out and do these things. If anything the last while must have taught us is that the world can change at any second and for me, I had this view already from previous experience - see posts below regarding lessons learnt and I wouldn't change a thing. I love my life here and I love my life - FULL STOP!