Retirement stories: Savouring the world from a bicycle seat

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With a lifelong interest in travel, Tony McKittrick, former Director of International Relations at RMIT, knew exactly what he’d do with his hard-earned retirement savings when the time came. Now on his third overseas cycling trip with his wife Virginia Laurinaitis, he hasn’t looked back.

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When we retired we planned to go to Europe every year, to visit Virginia’s family’s in Lithuania and because I’ve had a lifelong interest in Europe. But my interest in travel really started through my great aunt Lily, who back in the ’50s would go on overseas voyages with her husband and come back with stories of exotic places and gifts like cuckoo clocks for the family.

On our first trip after retirement, we visited the US, Lithuania, Germany, Luxembourg and France. The highlight was cycling in France, particularly visiting Mont Saint-Michele, which is an abbey on a little island just off the coast of Brittany. You walk across a causeway to get there and it just rises up sheer out of the sea—it’s quite magnificent.

We also cycled through the Loire Valley and because it was the high summer season, we booked our accommodation ahead. We had to ride all day in the rain to reach our hotel in the next town and when we arrived, we stood in our own small puddle at the reception desk, dripping all over the place.

But once we parked our bikes, we checked into our room and had a lovely hot shower. We asked the hotel proprietor where they’d recommend to eat. They said, “Oh just go next door”. We had the most magnificent dinner that evening. We were warm and dry and comfortable, and having that contrast made the good things even better.

Last year we rode the Via Augusta from Munich to Venice. Cycling through the mountains, that was superb. You’ve got the very high Alps with snow-capped peaks, beautiful lakes, beautiful little towns and villages with churches and market squares, and rushing rivers.

All your senses are operating when you’re on a bicycle. The beautiful vistas, the smell of the orange blossom or whatever it happens to be … sometimes you might smell a cow barn. And the birdlife is fantastic. And the food—cycling certainly heightens your senses so the food tastes better and so on.

I really enjoy planning the trip, doing the research, putting it all on a spreadsheet—that’s half the fun. It also means that you know a little about the place before you get there—though local knowledge is always good.

When you’re on a bicycle people stop and talk and ask you about your bike—particularly because our bikes are interesting looking. They’re called Bike Fridays and they have smaller wheels to enable the wheels to fit inside a standard Samsonite suitcase.

You certainly need to be quite flexible when you ride so much, so when we’re home we go to the gym Monday to Friday. We’ve realised that it gives us a weekly cycle, to use a pun.

One of the things I was missing about work that I did enjoy was the weekly cycle. You know, it’s Friday and you have that feeling that you’re coming to the weekend and you’ve got a couple of days off. The reverse of course is that it’s Sunday and you’re thinking, “Oh I gotta go back to work tomorrow”. For us it’s back to the gym—and that’s our job!