London to Brighton by Bicycle! Hove, actually.

Welcome back and sorry for the delay! After our wonderful 6+ weeks of exploring Ireland, we left Dublin under the threat of rain to catch an early boat to Holyhead, Wales. Our ultimate destination was a house and cat sit stay in Hove, on England’s historic south coast, and part of the lively Brighton and Hove municipality.

Cruising South Downs National Park towards the water and Brighton
Riding to the Port of Dublin, which is really a work in progress.

Luckily the rain managed to hold off while we rode to the massive Dublin port and terminal area, and the Irish Sea was thankfully calmer than predicted. We also decided to try out Irish Ferries instead of Stena Line, but we’ll fill you in on all the nuances of our year of ferry, train and bike travel in an upcoming post. Stay tuned.

Posing with our new friend waiting to board the Ferry in Dublin
Successfully off the train at London Euston, at a very quiet spot at the end of a platform and 10 car Avanti West train! One other intrepid cycle tourist with us.
Central London rush hour cycling was a breeze, even in a bit of rain.

Since we didn’t have time to ride all the way from Wales to Hove, we decided to train from Holyhead to London and then spend 3 relatively short days cycling to Hove via scenic back routes and footpaths. So we boarded the train in Holyhead, and after one transfer arrived in London.

Further along the Thames towards Wimbledon the roads got a lot more hectic

But unlike our last ride across London, which was on a quiet Saturday morning, we had 17km of pure evening rush hour riding from Euston Station to Wimbledon. I had found a nice guest house in Wimbledon that was bike friendly, walkable to dinner, and much cheaper than any part of Central London. It also got us a bit on our way towards Hove, and allowed a bit of the stretching of the legs after the ferry and train time.

Loved the Marple Cottage Guest House in Wimbledon

The irony of our ride was that Central London was still easy peasy due to light traffic, great bikeways, and smooth pavement. But as soon as we left the core and headed southwest into SW3, 11, and 18, the roads got a lot busier and the bike accommodation was less. The reimagined cores of global cities are now often ahead of their more suburban car oriented neighbors. Regardless, we made it to Wimbledon just fine, and were pleased to have a long 13-hour travel day over! It was then an easy walk to a great pub (The Alexandra) for dinner and some libations. We liked that the Alexandra had a sports side, non sports area, and upstairs loft, so you could choose your setting based on your mood. (Or passion for Arsenal or Liverpool!)

Finally, a bench atop Farthing Downs to have some lunch!
Unsuitable for trucks means more suitable for bikes!
A nice dry foot path in Sussex.

We had been to Wimbledon a few times when staying in London, as the area is nice, and walking though Richmond Park via Wimbledon Common is lovely. With easy train connections to central London, it’s a good alternative neighborhood to stay in if you want a bit less hubbub and cost than central London too.

The breakfast at the Godstone Inn was fantastic; Gourmet Full English and Avocado Toast with Scrambled Eggs.

There is no single “route” from London to Brighton and no National cycle network route that gets you there directly unless you divert fairly far east or west. You can head west via the NCR4 and 223 (rail trail-flat!) or east via the Avenue Verte, which is a good route to Paris via the Newhaven-Dieppe DFDS Ferry. We still went fairly directly and used Komoot, and a route on the Cycle.Travel site. I then tweaked each daily route to try to avoid busier roads, take in some sights, and hit sections of quiet lanes tagged by Komoot users. The big advantage of cycle touring on a leisurely schedule is that it is always easier to lengthen a journey and day as desired, but not the opposite. If you’re more time pressed, then you often have fewer choices and can be forced to take busier roads and ride through the worst of the weather.

Ready for Day 2 from Godstone.

The main roads south of London and in Sussex are all pretty busy, so we were happy to have the time to explore via smaller routes. It was also supposed to be rainy, and rain it did, so our schedule allowed us to duck under cover for showers, and not fret about excessively long days out in the wet. About 40-50k a day, but it did feel much longer on wet hilly roads, muddy paths, and stops at little sights along the way. Slow travel for sure.

Sometimes the footpaths turn foul.
Cheryl trying not to shred her legs through the briars…mostly successful.
Heading down into the green abyss near Ardingly via some very steep hollows.

One challenge of routing via Komoot or OS maps is knowing what the real condition of a footpath or bridleway will be. They vary widely! Smooth forest floor, decomposed rock or grass can be easy. Roots, mud, briars, and kissing gates or stiles can be a real challenge….your best bet is to look at notes/markers people have tagged in Komoot and be ready to turn around and divert back to paved roads as needed.

A memorable night at the Ardingly Inn, sharing in the shock of the Queens passing with the locals.

Even with our planning; we inevitably were on some busy stretches of A and B roads to connect up the quiet lanes, but they were not too bad for short stretches, but not recommended for longer distances, with large trucks and often mixed/no shoulders. Some A roads have bike lanes indicated on Google (light green solid lines), but these can consist of 2-3 foot shoulders, and with grit, wet roads, and high speed traffic, are not really anywhere you WANT to be. There is still a lot of work to do in the UK to make safe cycling networks complete and practical for those other than hard core sporty types. Or those with a lot of time (like us-:).

St. Martin’s Church, Westmeston.

The other variable on footpaths is how they are maintained, as clearly some landowners don’t really seem to want to accommodate the rightful access. But don’t get me wrong, the public footpath and bridleway network in the UK is an amazing thing and really allows unfettered and peaceful walking almost anywhere you want to go. We really missed this in Ireland. So as we build our perfect country, we’d take the footpath system from the UK, and the cycling access from the Netherlands.

Ready for our final short day via the Ditchling Beacon from Ardingly
Cheryl’s final assault on the Ditchling Beacon! And about to cross the South Downs Way long distance walking path.
Atop the Ditchling Beacon looking back towards London
Hove’s iconic beach cabins on a Saturday morning as a local triathlon finishes up.

All in all, the three days were very nice despite the rain. Sussex countryside is beautiful and the rains of the past few weeks had regreened the landscape from the late summer drought. (But not enough to fill the reservoirs again!)

The English Channel….France in the far distance!
Brighton’s waterfront quay has been reimagined with eateries and art galleries….but this day required some clean up after much needed rains.
It was a dramatic change from Summer to Fall over our two weeks in Hove
Great old timey rides on the Brighton Pleasure Pier
Steel pilings and railings take a beating on the English Channel
The skeleton frame in the distance is all that remains of the West Pleasure Pier; which hosted up to 2 million people a year in its heyday in the early 1900s.
People were a bit more friendly and laid back in Brighton and Hove
Day hike via the Thameslink to Balcombe…great place to start walking right into the woods.
Approaching the Ouse Valley Viaduct
Another engineering marvel, the 1,500 foot long Ouse Valley Viaduct. Designed by John Rastrick and opened in 1841. It still serves the main Brighton to London line today!
Great rambling on the South Downs
Cheryl with our morning pastries on the Undercliff walk near the Brighton Marina. (The Marina is bit of a 1970s design nightmare)

We arrived a bit early for our house sit, so decided to head to Hove Park, which is a very nice central park with a great cafe. Immediately we were greeted by a friendly cyclist who inquired about our travels and told us that would love Hove. Which we did.

The upbeat vibe of Hove

Brighton and Hove have a temperate and pleasant oceanside climate, long established LGBTQ community, art scene, good restaurants , a walkable grid, and connectivity by bus and train. It’s hilly with both broad slopes and steep valleys that frequently reward you with views. It’s also flush with parks and borders the large South Downs National Park. It really reminded me of San Francisco and is a place we would consider staying awhile.

Sunset on the Regent’s Canal during a day trip to London.
The Camden Canal on one of our easy day trips to London. The narrow boaters yelled to us that it was only their second day on their new boat- they were very excited!
Pub stop in London.

The rail connectivity means you can be at Gatwick airport in 30 minutes, and London in less than an hour. And you can even go all the way through London to Cambridge in 2 hours without a transfer. Getting to France is easy via Eurostar (from St. Pancras) and ferries from Portsmouth and Newhaven to the Normandy Coast.

Lots of space on the South Downs for cows and walking.
That’s Cheryl at the bottom of the fascinating formation known as the Devils Dyke

So, with such great connectivity, we met friends from London on the Thameslink to hike, a friend in London for the day, and other friends in Worthing, an easy train ride west. It was also fairly bike friendly, especially along the coast. It was wonderful to get so much social time with friends.

Another engineer bucket list item? Thanks Joe and Justina for the ride!

The great waking and SDNP adjacency came in handy as we mostly parked our bikes and walked and hiked from our house sit in every direction (except the ocean). The comfy double decker bus system, with USB ports at every seat and easy contactless payment via credit card or Apple Pay (capped day fares!), was the most fun, especially along the coast.

Couldn’t miss a ride on Volk’s Railway along the waterfront. Some dedicated folks (ok train nerds!) keep this running.
We loved the extremely walkable streets of Hove and Brighton…Street party around the corner from us in the Wilbury Villas neighborhood.
Independent neighborhood organic store and coffee….dense and car free living means more to discover around each corner.

The two weeks flew by, and we had to pack up, clean the apartment, and say goodbye to the sweet cat we had bonded with over two weeks. So we caught a train to Portsmouth and a ferry to Caen and another 3 day journey via train and bike to the Valleé Verte.

Our sweet house sit cat…mostly blind and deaf, but incredibly affectionate.
Hove Station at night with a huge new high rise neighborhood being built beyond; a great place for housing given walkability, transit, and weather.
Along the miles long promenade.

But where to next you ask? Let’s just say we’ll need all the walking fitness we can muster. But another update from Cheryl is coming soon. Bon Voyage!

The happy travelers in Hove…ready to move onto France and our next adventure

Cycling rail trails in Ireland, including the new Limerick Greenway.

Rich doing the loaded touring bike slalom on the Limerick Greenway.

Our bike tour in Ireland followed a good bit of the signed EuroVelo 1 route, and in his planning Rich had seen a greenway shown as running from Listowel to Rathkeale, also part of EuroVelo 1. Ah, what a perfect way to end our tour, greenway for a day and a half towards Limerick, from where we would take the train to Dublin. However, a small snag.

Nothing like seeing the fresh pavement of a greenway you cannot ride.

Work on the section from Listowel to Abbeyfeale is ongoing. We stood outside a construction fence separating us from the start of the path in Listowel, pondering in our bike tourer way if we could slip around the fence and poach the trail, when a super nice worker turned off his digger, got out, and came over to explain to us where the closest spot was where we could access the completed section of greenway. After a lovely chat, we followed his directions and started riding on fresh new greenway.

Left is a construction fence, right is wonderful butter smooth pavement all the way to Rathkeale.
Rich heads to an overpass under cloudy skies.

A lot of things about this path, which is a former a railway line, were very impressive. The crossings for farm lands were handled quite well, we thought. Gates for the farmer to close off the trail to the cattle, side gates for trail users to use if the big gates were in use, and a fresh concrete pad across the trail – whether for delineation or cattle ease I don’t know – but quite nice.

Rich added for scale at farm crossing.
Crossing cows added for scale, and to delight the tourists!
Bright new signage.
I like the code of respect, rather than a list of rules.

Signage was very well done. Both information sharing and history telling signs. We stopped to read every single sign about the history of the railway. Always read the information boards!

Details of route and sights to see.

The railway was originally built primarily to move dairy products, and with so much cattle land and creameries on the route, it was a busy line.

Details and history of the old Devon Road station.
The legend for the larger signs.

We were impressed with the number of picnic tables and benches along the route as well. Given how much it rains in Ireland it would be nice to have some covered tables and benches, but perhaps that will be added in the future.

Picnic tables and bike racks abound. A stretch of original forest adds to the charm of this section of path.
This old station building has been turned into an adorable dwelling.
Buildings restored, but not repurposed…yet?

Riding the greenway from Abbeyfeald to Newcastle West, where we spent the night, was such a joy. The butter smooth pavement, the views, and seeing quite a few cyclists, dog walkers, and runners, all happily enjoying the new trail. We do notice that Ireland suffers from a lack of hiking and walking trails. Unlike England, Wales, and Scotland with their extensive public foot path networks and hiking trails, Ireland’s beautiful countryside is mostly off limits to public walking. We read up on the laws, it’s an ongoing issue and under discussion, but the right to roam and cross farmlands is not enshrined in Ireland. So, anywhere with walking paths is a draw, be it a former grand estate now a public park, Belvedere Gardens near Mullingar, or the Clara Bog boardwalk near Birr, which specifically said it wasn’t an exercise path but people were using it as such, jogging laps, and this old rail line. So many people are out enjoying it. Sadly, it seems many have to drive to find a place to walk, which in a country with not a huge population isn’t a parking issue, yet, but it did make us think about how we as tourists on bikes, could visit Ireland without bikes and actually get enough exercise? The opportunities to hike were limited and involved routes that were on the road quite a bit, like the Wicklow Way, some of which we cycled.

Next stop Newcastle West, our weather luck held out and the rain held off.
Off again the next morning towards Rathkeale, the current end of the greenway.
Dramatic skies as Rich heads under another lovely stone overpass.
The views were delightful. And still enjoying that velvety pavement.
Nearing the end of the greenway. And sensing the beginning of fall.
We were back on roads for about 40k to get to Limerick, but we crossed the old rail line and wondered what the future holds for extending the greenway towards Limerick.

Ireland is doing great work with converting and updating old rail lines into multi use paths. In addition to the Limerick greenway we rode the Mullingar to Athlone Greenway.

Greenway entrance in Athlone.
Rails still in place for a dramatic effect- Athlone Mullingar greenway.

And, after a night in Cork where we arrived by train, we rode the Blackrock Greenway out of the city. It was also recently updated and upgraded, with wide smooth pathways making for a stress free ride with plenty of room for all users. Ireland is setting a high standard for mixed use pathways.

The engineer reading about the bridge. Plenty of room to pull over and read the sign board.
Very impressed with the updated crossings and entrances/exits to the path.
On the Passage West greenway near Horsehead. And another fascinating info board.
The Clara Bog boardwalk. It hadn’t rained much for a few weeks so the bog was a bit dry. No puddles.

We’re back in the UK now, and riding leisurely from London to Brighton. We rode several footpaths and bridle ways today and agreed that we missed that option in Ireland. We also missed the small lanes of Ireland while cycling on busy roads here. If we are ever asked to create a perfect country from the point of view of auto adverse cyclists, it will certainly include Irelands small lanes, greenways, and considerate drivers. And Germany’s covered picnic tables near impressive cycle routes. And the Netherlands’ amazing cycle ways connecting every town and city. And Sweden’s cycle centric design and laws and attentive drivers. Oh, Belgium’s amazing fast track of bicycle infrastructure too. Denmark’s embrace of the bicycle for everyday transport and their bakeries. The list goes on. We miss what we don’t have while appreciating what we do have.

The happy travelers walking the Clara Bog boardwalk.

The Ups and Downs of Southwest Ireland

We had a wonderful two weeks house sitting in Mt. Temple, a hilly part of the Irish Midlands. It was a chance to really slow down our pace, listen to the sounds of rural Ireland, and best of all, cook all of our meals for two weeks!

A long decent into Bantry with clear skies towards the Beara peninsula!

There was even a nice gas BBQ grill, so we took advantage of the excellent locally sourced meats and summer produce, and tried to replenish our diets from the challenges of constant eating out.

One of our two house sit cats in Mt. Temple, checking in on dinner status

We really wanted to minimize train transfers, so I planned two nice days of touring from Mt. temple by heading southeast towards the charming village of Birr and then onto a train connection that would take us directly on to the City of Cork.

Excuse me sheep, but we have a train to catch!

It can be challenging to make an afternoon connection when touring, as the further you are cycling, the harder it is to time the arrival. Wind, hills, dirt, cobbles, or dogs can all slow your progress. So we generally allow plenty of time, especially when you have one of the few bike reservation spaces and the next train is in 3 hours!

Tea and a chocolate croissant help Cheryl to pass the waiting time at Ballybrophy Station
Local (L) roads can be nicely paved and two lanes, or overgrown double track with rocks and mud…no way to know from most maps!

We arrived in Cork in early evening and found Ireland’s second city to be a bit of a work in progress with respect to bike infrastructure. The city is a working port city and downtown doesn’t overwhelm with charm, but the lively restaurant and pub scenes compensate, as well as some interesting hilly nooks and valleys to explore on the north bank of the River Lee. But it’s a good jumping off point for exploring the Southwest of Ireland and we couldn’t wait to set out the next morning in the cool coastal air.

Loading up outside our hotel in Cork….nope, we’re not getting in that tour bus
We were pleasantly by some new bike lanes leaving Cork…as almost all the bike and path mapping is out of date, especially Google.

We took a longer scenic way to Kinsale, to take in two nice sections of rail-trail/greenway along the sinuous coast that opens up towards the Celtic Sea from Cork Harbor. Cruising along the salty coast separated from traffic on flat paths was a joy. However, we then turned to the SW, where headwinds and hills started to make their mark and let us know that traversing County Cork by loaded bike would be hard work, but also reward with sublime views and lush valleys.

The Carrigaline Greenway towards Crosshaven, so nice to enjoy the views without traffic
Our reward for the push across the hills and winds of the Cork Coast was the sublimely peaceful and picturesque Glandore

Since the prevailing winds are from the Southwest, we knew that we likely had two days of head wind ahead of us. And we did, but you are often buffered by vegetation along the small roads, so the winds are often mitigated (or unnoticeable when headed up a 10% grade!)

The Drombeg Stone Circle on the way to Glandore…worth the detour for a great chat with a French traveler originally from Mauritius (who took our picture)
Cruising inland across County Cork

Kinsale is a picturesque town set at the head of a beautiful harbor, so we decided to take an extra day there and relax as it was our 25th Wedding Anniversary. And to be honest, there really aren’t any places that I would have rather been than cycle touring with my amazing wife across the friendly and stunning landscape of Southwest Ireland.

We jumped on this lovely new stretch of separated path to get off a busy road only to have it dead end with no gap in the guardrail. Bike facilites, signs, and maps are all a work in progress here.

This is what we worked towards for many years, it does feel wonderful every day to realize that we are living our dream. And doing it while we still have some oomph in our legs. In the future, we won’t be shy about employing e-bikes to extend our years of cycle touring. It’s just such an amazing way to see the countryside and experience a place.

Yes Cheryl, we are headed OVER the mountains via Healy Pass.
But Cheryl was ready with secret emergency provisions.
Perfect pavement, reasonable grades, and a palette of colors made Healy Pass one of the highlights of the area.
Enjoying some snacks on the far side of Healy Pass, and now looking toward County Kerry
Cheryl contemplating the descent. She cruised up the pass and I think may even now be enjoying the hills!

But like everything, cycle touring and Ireland has its ups, and downs. One of the downs for us has been cycling into a bit of car and truck mayhem in most Irish cities and villages, especially as traffic really peaks here in the mid afternoon.

Late summer carmageddon in Killarney…getting around towns by bike is not easy yet in most places…but they are working on it a bit, with some new bike lanes and paths.

Logically for original settlement needs, villages are almost always on a river or at the head of an inlet or protected harbor. Add hilly glacial geography to the mix, and you have every road generally meeting in one spot…across one bridge….just where the village and sights are as well. Kinsale especially suffers from this.

Cheryl in her Conqueror pose
Cheryl looking down toward Bantry and the Beara Peninsula after another climb from Kinsale.

It’s also true that 90% of the lodging is along main roads as this is where the commercial development has been, so a number of B&Bs and hotels we’ve stayed at have been impacted by traffic noise. A fact of life, but especially disappointing to deal with when you are traveling only by bike and train.

With views like this, the minor annoyances of Ireland are soon forgotten

We could opt for more country lodging, but then dinner is often an issue, since cycling miles into a town in the evening is not really fun (or safe feeling) after being out on the bikes all day. Not to mention we like to stroll about the towns and explore a bit each evening.

The local roads are quiet, but rarely flat!
Sometimes you have to improvise for a lunch spot…this was the edge of a farm road on a ridge, but with some views across the valley.

Of course, this phenomenon is not unique to Ireland, but it’s especially noticeable on bikes, and since there is generally not too much traffic elsewhere. But luckily, there just aren’t a lot of people in Ireland (6M), so the scale of the issues are small and manageable. This has been the biggest surprise in Ireland…despite a deep history, it’s modern, educated, and forward looking, and still living in a bit of a golden age of prosperity and development.

Pubs and Trad music sooth the soul at the end of a long day pedaling (or even a short day!)
The colors of Irish summer

So after a relaxing few days in Kinsale, we happily set out on our bikes and meandered north to Bantry, Glengariff, and finally over Healy pass to Killarney National Park. The weather was lovely and the views constantly stimulating, so the miles just click by, even when heading up the many long and steep hills.

The happy travelers enjoying a day off the bikes in Killarney National Park

Plus, we always looked forward to finding a new pub each night to enjoy a fresh pint in a friendly atmosphere. Ireland really is a nice place to tour, and we’re going to miss it when we get back on the ferry to the UK next week. Happy September and happy travels!

What caught my attention cycling in Ireland? Stone walls and stone bridges.

Rich riding across the bridge over the River Nore at Inistioge.

I do love a bridge. Good thing my wonderful civil engineer husband does too. Or, as he might say, good thing my amazing, strong, and adaptable wife also likes bridges. The photos in this post highlight yet again the way bike touring helps you enjoy the countryside. Slow enough to enjoy things, but fast enough that you can cover some ground.

Green’s Bridge in Kilkenny, also over the River Nore.
Holdenstown Lower, on the Wicklow Way. No idea what the name of the creek is.

It can be a bit tricky to get the photos I want of the bridges. If the road doesn’t have a curve before the bridge you don’t get a good view of the stone arch or arches. Climbing down into the fields is usually quite impossible – brambles and nettles make sure of that. Rich got the photo above with a little climbing and a long reach.

Slievenamough Plain. Now that is just a lovely little bridge. I stopped just in time to catch Rich riding across.

My long suffering husband also has to deal with turning around to realize I’m not in sight anymore. Stopped for a photo, saw a cat, or had a mechanical? Thankfully, usually the first two.

View from the Glenmalure Lodge. Fan of big puffy clouds? Yes, me too.

Next on my list of favorite things in Ireland is stone walls. Even on a climb so steep that I can barely start pedaling my loaded bike again, I’ll still stop to get a shot over a stone wall. Or two shots.

So many shades of green against a grey sky. This is the climb out of the Glenmalure Lodge valley. I think there is a stone wall buried under the ferns.
Just a few meters up the road, the same view, but this time with heather and foxgloves. And the same challenge to start pedaling up the mountain again.

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower-but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, all in all,
I should know what God and man is. Alfred Lord Tennyson

I’m glad I looked that poem up, I thought it was Robert Frost. That poem has been running through my head every time I see a stone wall and a flower. Which, riding in Ireland in August, is frequently.

Glendalough. Ferns, crannied wall, and sheep.
Annemoe. Stone wall and two curious cows.
Roundwood. Daisies taller than the wall.
Near the Nun’s Church at Clonmacnoise Monastic site.
Mount Temple. On a walk back from the pub. The variation of the stone walls really catches my attention in these photos. All different styles.

We have two more weeks of bike touring in Ireland, our two week Housesit is wrapping up. We’re heading to the west coast, very much looking forward to seeing what that’s like. My other fascination is with the traditional Irish cottages. I haven’t managed to get any good photos though- so fingers crossed for that!

The happy travelers enjoying a walk on the Clara Bog boardwalk.

How is Ireland for cycling? Fantastic!

Our first full day in Ireland, a few miles outside of Wexford.

We were not sure what to expect, bike touring in Ireland. Our ride from Rosslare Harbor, where the ferry docks, to Wexford, was not super encouraging. Large road with fast traffic, N Road, although a decent paved paved shoulder, or back roads with very choppy asphalt, L Roads. Hmmm…neither of those hit our sweet spot for cycling. There are also R Roads which vary in accommodations for cyclists.

Hanging whiskey bottles at The Sky and the Ground pub – enthusiastically recommended to us by two young women at another pub.

Thankfully that first ride lied. Not only are the Irish super friendly when it comes to pub culture- we were singing along with the guitar player in our very first pub – but we’re finding the drivers to be very respectful and careful of cyclists.

A typical L road, enough room for passing, no center stripe, cool green canopy.

Of course, when we say that to Irish cyclists we get a look that says “really?”. Maybe our obvious cycle tourist gear screams “We don’t live here. We’re rubber necking and will likely stop at every lovely view.” Perhaps that gets you an extra measure of consideration.

Lunch in a field with a view, on our way to New Ross.

Hey guess what? July and August are busy travel months. Through all our working years we never traveled in August and only once in July, to bike in Quebec. So this peak season stuff is different for us. The planner was working hard to find us suitable bike touring accommodations: Somewhere safe to store the bikes. Not too far from town or dinner opportunities. With breakfast starting hopefully at 7 or 7:30. And not a lovely but possibly cloying BnB. Some folks are BnB folks. Some aren’t. We fall in the middle leaning towards not.

Our BnB outside New Ross was thankfully walking distance to a farm to table restaurant, Mannion’s Pub. A pint of recovery beverage.
The lovely town of Inistioge, on the River Nore. Heading towards Kilkenny.
A notable photo in that I’m ahead of Rich! On a hill! (He had a mechanical.) Another good example of an L road.

We were winging it a bit, not sure of how far we would ride each day, and Rich was booking as far ahead as two days, as little ahead as that morning. We ended up staying two different places in Kilkenny since we hit it on a long Bank Holiday weekend, so both Saturday and Sunday nights were busy. Bank Holiday weekend equals busy and pricey.

A much appreciated bench in Thomastown. It’s not as easy to find picnic lunch spots in Ireland as some other countries where we’ve cycled (hello Sweden), but when we do they tend to be beautiful.
Moving from one hotel to the next in Kilkenny, castle in the background and still on the River Nore.
Wandering around Kilkenny on our rest day.

Next was a night in Carlow, one of those towns we love since it’s not a usual tourist stop and we had a fantastic chat with a hotel owner who had immigrated with his family from Ireland to SF when he was a child, and came back to Ireland in his 30s. The close connections between Ireland and the US are still heartwarming, even considering the tough conditions that sent people in search of a better life for their families. Hearing from someone who came back to Ireland was fascinating.

Grey but fairly dry. Green vistas on our way to Carlow.
I love these lanes with grass growing in the center. This signals a quiet lane to me.
Hello goats. Why yes, we are fascinating.
Picnic tip – Churchyards. We stopped at a lot in Denmark and now here in Ireland. Always either a bench or a green spot to sit and relax. Pictured is our second Turkish towel/picnic blanket/temporary window shade. I lost the green one in Denmark and bought a replacement in Bristol.
Heading in to Carlow on the River Barrow. Always nice to find some off road trails.
Another Churchyard picnic heading from Carlow to Glenmalure.
Looking quite confident considering the climb that is coming up.
How Rich looks climbing the Wicklow mountains, he loves loves loves climbing.
Versus how I look on long climbs. Hot, tired, and thinking about what my reward will be be for this.
At the summit of the day’s climb.
And the reward at The Glenmalure Lodge.
Before he broke the news we had another climb the next day.
Showered, fed, and saying – why yes, I can start right up the mountain tomorrow.

The lovely Glenmalure Lodge is in a valley. So yes, you get on your bike and turn right up to the next climb. Again, the car drivers are considerate and the views are stunning. However, it was humid and still and the flies were finding me very interesting. That kept me climbing, and the promise of a break at a cafe in Laragh.

Rich having a break while he waited for me.
Another summit celebration.
The promised break. Tea, coffee, and scones.

Now we were heading to Dublin. Well, Dún Laoghaire actually. The previous comments about travel in August proved very true in Dublin. Busy and pricey. Dún Laoghaire is a short train ride from downtown Dublin and a lovely relaxed place.

First, some blackberry picking.
Loads of berries, not all ripe yet but enough for a post scone snack.
Signage along the Wicklow Way. We saw quite a few hikers in this stretch.
A happy cyclist.
I love switching cities on my Citymapper app. If you’re not familiar with Citymapper, download it now. Best transit app available.
Dublin. We had a great day walking around and intend to come back again. Maybe not in August.
Packed up to head to the train station. Our firm dates for Ireland have been a two week house and pet sit through Trustedhousesitters. So off to Dublin Heuston train station we go.
The happy travelers.

After our two week rural idyll we’ll head back out on our bikes for another two weeks before we return to Dublin for a few days and to catch another ferry (love the ferries!) to Holyhead in the UK. I have more photos of Ireland to share. I really do stop at every scenic spot and every cute animal. Until then – happy pedaling!

UK Heatwave! Bikeways, Bunnies, and Bristol

When traveling long term, you strangely become both more tolerant of discomfort (especially when out of your control), and obsessed with small comforts. And sometime the smallest things can give you a feeling of satisfaction in an often disorienting lifestyle.

Trying to cool off in a top floor hotel room in Clifton/Bristol, UK

For example, our little down travel pillows always provide a modicum of comfort, even over the hardest “pillow” found in some lodging. Carrying our own salt, pepper, picnicware, and hot sauce brightens otherwise dull meals or take out on the road.

Wait, we’ve seen this cat pub before!

Another way to ease the stress of constant travel is to return to a place…maybe a few times. It’s always easier once you know the lay of the land, favorite neighborhoods, and how to get out of the train station in the right direction. In the past year we’ve been lucky enough to visit London and Paris multiple times, in completely different neighborhoods. Plus, you can venture deeper into new places, see obscure sights, and generally settle in with the more relaxed lens of a quasi-local.

Arriving at Liverpool Station by train from Harwich…our arrival port from The Netherlands

As we left the Netherlands for the UK, the warnings of an impending heat wave across Northern Europe were growing, so we thought about where we could ride it out as we approached the next leg across of our planned 4 month summer European cycling, train, and boat tour.

Along the Thames; Cheryl looking much more London than me in my high viz helmet cover!

Our primary goals in the UK were to see our friends in Wales, and connect to a ferry to Ireland, so we did not plan on too much cycling. The heat wave clinched the decision to settle in somewhere for a longer stay. So we looked back on places that we could (somewhat) easily get to with our bikes on trains…our train from the ferry landing in Harwich went to London, but London would be too hot(100+) and is $$$ in August, plus we wanted to get further west where it would be a bit cooler, and closer to a house sit we had scheduled in Gloucester.

Love the Thames Cycle Superhighway!
This area near Bank was the only part of our 10km ride sharing the streets with cars and buses
And Big Ben will be on your right!
Is that the Queen over there?!

So we decided on Bristol for a third visit, via a single train transfer in London. The only catch was one train came into Liverpool Station and the other departed from Paddington. But no problem on bikes, as the 10km ride across London on a Saturday morning was a pleasure due to all the new cycling infrastructure. London’s wide new paths, protected lanes and bike signals have made cycling a much more viable alternative in the Capital.

10 relaxing kilometers later at Paddington, ready to catch (Brunel’s!) Great Western Railway to Bristol. Quiet here, but the station was packed inside.

Bristol was also a good base for some day cycling trips and we could go back to our favorite falafel stand, noodle restaurant, and cat pub!

Heatwave exploration along the Avon River towards Bath …shady and you can swim in the river!
A very welcome cold and drippy tunnel along the Bath Bristol Cycle way

And yes, we could go back to the S.S. Brittanica and Brunel Museum…and for free! Ha, even the staff was impressed (and a bit surprised) when Cheryl pulled out our printed tickets from last year, which they sell at the relatively high price of £20 each, with the caveat that the tickets are good for a year.

On deck at the SS Great Britain

Of course, most non-locals never make it back within the year…but these frugal Americans did! (Thanks to Cheryl -:) We enjoyed seeing more of the museum that we missed on the first visit due to school groups and also took another walk through the ship. This was a small satisfaction for these frequent travelers!

A rather scruffy Isambard Brunel
Still love this bridge and this woman!

We spent one warm night in the top floor of a old school hotel in leafy Clifton (nicely near the Suspension bridge), but then strategically moved to an air conditioned room downtown for the peak days of the heat wave.

Bristol Harbour….so familiar on a third visit, and hey, our favorite brew pub is right there!

It WAS hot and the Hilton Garden Inn’s British AC system could barely keep up, especially when the sun bore down on our windows in the afternoon. Luckily we like this hotel due to its adjacency to a small park with nice mature trees that cooled it down a bit.

Tracking down Banksy’s street art in Bristol was a goal of our third visit
Banksy’s take on improving the planning process
Our Banksy hunt led to more great street art in Stokescroft
It certainly is!

This heat wave set all-time records throughout the UK…43c/104f in a land not adapted in culture, architecture, or A/C systems to such heat. Southern England is now experiencing a drought along with about 50% of the rest of Western Europe. The adaptation to the climate change that seems to be happening is going to be difficult, expensive, and disruptive to life as we know it….and of course, we are the lucky ones that can afford to move and adapt, while other poorer and more impacted nations suffer unduly for greenhouse gases they contribute little to generating.

The Cornubia Pub…a nice old pub in the heart of redeveloped Bristol
Cheryl’s heatwave adaption? Outdoor pomegranate cider at the Cornubia

But let’s move on to happier topics, like house bunnies. We had a nice 70km cycle from Bristol to Stroud, a pleasant historic canal town on the edge of the Cotswolds. It was a little hectic getting out of Bristol as the cycle infrastructure is spotty and confusing to the first time user.

Heading to Stroud

But the ride was generally pleasant, and Stroud made a good overnight stop, with the convenince of pub lodging….drinks, dinner, sleep, breakfast…check. We then rode back to the Gloucester Canal via the Stroud water, where we house sat for a nice young couple for the weekend, with primary duties looking after their two bunnies. The bunnies were super cute and lots of fun. Who knew rabbits had such personalities!? And Gloucester has an interesting revitalized docklands area and a spectacular cathedral.

Bunny dinner time in Gloucester

So one of the surprises of our first cycle touring days in the UK was the fact that it wasn’t that bad! After spending the better part of last winter in the UK, we had not deemed the roads, drivers, or train system too hospitable to bikes and basically decided that we’d use our precious cycling time elsewhere where the cycling seems safer and offered more freedom to discover. However, a critical law enacted in February mandates passing clearances of 1.5-2m for cars, as well as improved cyclist and pedestrian rights at intersections and crossings. Way to go UK!

You need a Canal and River Trust Key to work the locks….hmmm?

There is a also nascent national cycling network (with gaps), as well as local tourism loops and other marked routes in many cities and towns. But it’s hard to find online cycling maps and data, despite downloading and paying for the Ordiance Survey (OS Maps) App at the premium level. We had to piece together routing from Komoot, Google, and some of the National and local signage to find a good route. It should be easier.

On the Gloucester Canal

And many of the A or B roads are still absolutely no go in my view. For example we crossed a few primary roads (A roads) that Google had routed us on, and spent a km or two on some, but quickly bailed or found an alternate route as they were just too high speed with no shoulders. Some have bike lanes that disappear or are just way too narrow for traffic speeds.

Better signage along the recently restored Stroudwater Canal

As we alway say, England is a pretty crowded place and car use has run rampant since the 1970s, without the concurrent development of connective cycling infrastructure. It’s a similar pattern to the USA; the cities have led the way, while the suburban and rural areas have been neglected or fallen through the planning/funding cracks. In the UK, the physical challenges of the narrow roads are also harder to overcome, whereas in the US it is often more a lack of political will.

Cycle touring allows you savor all the small sights along the way

On the quieter backroads though, the cycling can be very rewarding as the small scale and undulations of the historic road system is perfect for cycle touring. And millions of British cycle frequently and we saw many out there….but they are mostly in high vis vests and it feels like a bit of a road warrior mentality that is not going to get the other 98% of the population out on bikes.

Gloucester Cathedral…part of the original Abbey dating back over 800 years
The magnificent modern stained glass tribute to Gerald Finzi done by Thomas Denny in 2016. The cathedral has some of the best stained glass in the world

The other huge positive was that almost all the drivers are respecting the new laws, so this did make it feel safer and more pleasant on many roads. However, heading up a steep narrow road with 5 cars stuck behind you waiting to pass safely is still not exactly the relaxing experience of a 5m wide Dutch cycleway. So we decided that we will try out a bit more of the National cycling network next time through the UK in September.

On the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, ultimately opened in 1827 after 30 difficult years. It provide boats a safe navigation past the dangerous tidal reach of the Severn River

So we headed out of Gloucester by train to Carmarthen, Wales, where our kind friends picked us up in their van for the final leg to Tenby. It was great (as always) to see our friends and we still are so thankful for their kindness in providing us some grounding for our European travels. Cheryl has known them for almost 40 years, and we feel especially close as generations age and kids turn into young adults. But somehow, we stay the same age, right?

Everybody smiling…except the dog!
We definitely get by with a little help from our friends…the drop at Fishguard
Beautiful Tenby Harbour at sunset

The swimming in Tenby was particularly pleasant in August and we enjoyed recuperating a bit before moving onto our next adventure; cycling and exploring Ireland, so we packed up our bikes and gear and our kind hosts shuttled us again to the Stena Line ferry in Fishguard, Wales for the 4 hour trip to Ireland. I’ve heard the Irish are pretty friendly too, but more on that next time.

My favorite traveling companion enjoying the views leaving Wales

Happy travels!

Our race across the Netherlands – by bike.

The best kind of photobombing. A happy cyclist behind a happy cyclist. The gorgeous bike parking garage in downtown Groningen evokes these feelings.

This was our second time cycle touring in the Netherlands, our first was in 2017. This felt different because we were on a longer cycle trip, and we had just come from countries widely considered to be cycling heavens – Germany, Sweden, and Denmark.

The all green for cyclists signal phase in Groningen. Fun to ride.

We were quickly reminded of why the Netherlands is still the gold standard for cyclists around the world. We needed to run a few errands while in Groningen for two nights, and those errands took us out to big box store land (A big cycling store, of course.). It was a breeze, a joy, to cycle there on wonderful protected cycle tracks. Almost no stop signs and maybe one or two traffic signals. The traffic flow was controlled with yield symbols which allowed for such seamless cycling. It was so fun to note that people on bikes are separated from people driving cars by space in so many situations. Underpasses for bikes. Bridges for bikes. Wide wide lanes where we could ride two abreast and chat and other people on bikes could easily pass us. If you’ve ever tried to cycle to big box store territory in the US you will understand our delight.

Enjoying a Groningen evening with drinks and the parade of people on bikes.

But our ferry reservation to the UK from the Hook of Holland (Hoek Van Holland) beckoned. We needed to get on our bikes and enjoy the riding. Quite a bit of riding to make the ferry. We could have taken a train hop, but the riding was so nice. And it’s flat in the Netherlands we said, right?

So off we went. Towards Zwolle.

Flat is nice, and easy in theory. And usually in reality. But with headwinds and crosswinds the flat kilometers start to hurt. 115 kilometers from Groningen to Zwolle, on loaded bikes, was a long day. I realized why I don’t have many photos from Zwolle. Too tired. And it was pretty warm weather so that takes it out of you too. Flat kilometers mean you stay in the same riding position a lot, and don’t get the hill climbing up and coasting down break for your legs. And as Rich’s cycling buddies is SF will attest, he is much happier on hills!

Warm enough that I switched to my hat from my helmet. I love that it feels so safe in the Netherlands that I can do that.
Signage along the National route we took.
So much of the route was completely car free. And a lot was asphalt free as well.
Way finding is still necessary though. Rich mixes in some Komoot routing. Shaded spots to stop were very welcome.
Ah… finally Zwolle.

When you get to your destination, you check in to the hotel, shower, and then head back out to get dinner. With a tight time line this was a one night stop, so the walk to and from dinner is your chance to sightsee in town.

Kitty wants back inside.

Up at 7:00, hotel breakfast, pack up, and back on the bikes! Next stop, Amersfoort, 92 kilometers away. It’s not fair to say we don’t get a chance to sightsee since we are sightseeing all day as we ride. And riding from town to town lets you appreciate what distances felt like pre automobile. You understand how separated places were in the days when walking, horse drawn conveyances, and canal boats ruled the landscape.

Leaving Zwolle, another physical separation of bikes and other modes.
A ferry just for bikes and pedestrians across the river IJssel.
On a long hot day sometimes the only thing that sounds good is cold chocolate milk!
Still smiling.
Big guy and a big bike.

Amersfoort was a logical place to stop for a night. It’s unlikely I could have gone much further in a day. It’s also a beautiful place to stop. There is a lot to be said for intensive travel planning, but the surprise of not knowing much about where you’re stopping, and finding it to be so beautiful, is like an unexpected gift. Instead of looking for the city you saw depicted in your research, you have a surprise around every turn.

Where are we? This is beautiful. Is what I said as we walked into the old part of the city.
Although we were both tired after supper we had to keep walking around.
And keep walking. Ahhh…Amersfoort.

Up again, breakfast again, on the bikes again. Today would take us through Utrecht and on to The Hague. Only 82 kilometers. In most countries the idea of riding through a major city and out the other side would be daunting. But this is the Netherlands.

Even animals get their own safe pathways across the roads. This is one of two wildlife overpasses we rode under while crossing the Panbos National Forest.
A quick stop to pick up lunch in Utrecht.
And across and out of Utrecht we go. With many other people on bikes.
Infrastructure like this makes cycling such a popular and valid way to travel. You truly feel seen and cared for as a person on a bike.
And on towards Den Hague we go.
Summer cycling sights.

Although we only slept one night in The Hague, our ferry didn’t start boarding until 7pm for a 10pm departure. So we had a full day for a museum visit and buying replacement panniers for me, my old ones having failed and no chance of getting them repaired before we left town. I left them at a bike shop who said they would repair and put them to good use and we pulled out of town around 4pm to ride the 28 kilometers to the ferry terminal. A good travel tip for transition days is to stay at a nice hotel, if you can. The staff at the Mövenpick Hotel were super helpful and we left our bikes and bags after checkout, visited the Mauritshuis Museum, and then picked up just the bikes and set out to get a new set of Ortlieb panniers for me. Back to the hotel, unpack and pack panniers, drop off old panniers and head out to the ferry.

On the way to the ferry.
The lovely cycle track heading to the ferry.
Seriously nice infrastructure all the way to the ship, which you can see to the left of the happy travel planner. We made it! And no one had an emotional breakdown by the side of the cycle track (that would have been me.).
Very smart ferry company. Sure, get on hours before we set out and enjoy a few drinks and dinner!

Watch for an all ferry post in the future, we have three more bike/ferry trips planned – it’s not only how we avoid flying, but also so much easier with bicycles. And for parents with small children it appears. Load the car with kids and your gear and then have fun on the ship while you cross to the UK.

The happy travelers on the ferry boat to Harwich.

This concludes our self imposed race across the Netherlands. We’re glad we didn’t miss a single kilometer of this over 300km ride in cycling nirvana.

Le Tour de Denmark (and beyond!)

So it’s hard to beat Sweden in summer for cycle touring, but despite our somewhat haphazard rambles, we had one date on the calendar for more than a year; the July 1st opening stage of the Tour de France in Copenhagen. Le Grand Départ!

Cheryl on the time trial course in Copenhagen…a little bit ahead of the first rider.

But wait, isn’t the Tour de France in France? Yes, the majority is in France; however, more recently, they start in a nearby country for the first 3 stages (of 21) to help share in the experience and spread the Tour love across borders.

Tour fever was everywhere in Copenhagen

In recent years, the tour has started in Belgium, Spain, Italy, Netherlands and the UK. But this was the first time it had visited cycle-crazy Denmark.

Yup, the tour was coming!

And since we had been moving a lot in the previous month of cycle touring (a few 2 night stops but mostly single touring nights), we decided to head to Copenhagen early and get an apartment for a week in advance of our long-standing 2-night hotel reservation just a 100 meters from the course.

Most of downtown Copenhagen was completely car free for two days. Sweet!

So we crossed from Helsingborg, Sweden to Helsingør, Denmark by ferry across the Kattegat Strait. This short 20 minute crossing was the primary crossing point until the completion of the Oresund bridge/tunnel in 2000, so has robust infrastructure on both sides of the crossings and multiple automated dock structures to load and unload trucks, cars, passengers and the occasional bikes. Very cool.

Waiting to load up in Helsingborg. Wait, another cycle tourist!

It’s still busy, and the Swedish side has a shiny new intermodal station, with great connections for rail, bus, and ferry passengers. As with most European vehicle ferries, bikes load with the cars and trucks, so we made our way around the maze of approach lanes and signs to find our way to a toll booth station where you ride up to window and buy your tickets for the next ferry out.

Crossing to Denmark with a friendly Swede heading out for a 3 month bike packing trip to the tip of Portugal!

As always, it’s a bit of a rush to ride on and off in between big rigs and loading cars, and in this case, no stopping for any immigration as this is an internal EU crossing.

Calling all cycle tourists to Lane 2

We highly recommend taking ferries where you can if bike touring, even if there is another option, as you get the continuous experience of the landscape, get to see some of the seascape, meet other cycle tourists, and can tune into the subtleties of the cultural infrastructure differences in every country. And yes, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands all are unique cycling experiences. More on that later.

The meeting hall in the Danish Workers Museum, an excellent history of the labor movement in Denmark and insight into the modern Danish Social Democracy

Our friend Jason met us about half way along the way on the 50km ride into Copenhagen, and it was great to have an escort and some engaging conversation with a familiar face. Jason is a professor from San Francisco, and was spending the month in Copenhagen, continuing his field studies and collaboration on the politics and implementation of transport policies in Copenhagen and San Francisco.

Good to see Jason! He led us on one of the many nice cycling options into Copenhagen from Helsingor

Jason has literally written a book on the topic, and has great insight on how Copenhagen has become one of the worlds leading bicycle cities; however, noting the challenges facing a lax continued investment in car free space and the troubling growth of auto mobility throughout Denmark.

A beach is never far away cycling along the Danish coast

His insights would align with some of our experiences in Copenhagen and beyond as we toured across Denmark. The country has fantastic cycling infrastructure, but we did find traffic a bit heavy and passing often surprisingly a bit close compared to Sweden and Germany. And some interior towns and cities had very few bikes and large drive through bakeries?!

Denmark and Cheryl were ready for Le Tour!

Our apartment was in Norrebrø, a trendy and leafy neighborhood just outside the more touristed core of Copenhagen. The neighborhood is great, so we took a chance on an Airbnb with only a few sparse reviews. It was fine, but had a few issues.

So many bikes in Nørrebro that parking was often a challenge in front of our favorite bakery

First, although it looked out over the beautiful trees of the adjacent cemetery/park, it was fronted by a fairly busy two-lane road. And since we were there during a rare heat wave, we were faced with the choice of open windows for ventilation or traffic noise. Secondly, we discovered that under the bed was full of clutter with years of thick dust. Cheryl, being the amazing travel companion she is, spent the better part of an hour cleaning under the bed to spare me from the misery of my dust allergies for a week.

Cycling through Assistens Cemetery, a hybrid park and cemetery in the heart of Nørrebro

We don’t use Airbnb very often, but this apartment highlighted some of the challenges of the platform. It had a few sparse 5 star reviews that we feel in retrospect were probably left by friends, and the lack of a specific location when choosing a rental is unprecedented in the lodging industry….and very annoying to me. You should know what you are buying when spending $1000++ for a weekly apartment.

One of the pleasant shared streets of Nørrebro

Our week in Copenhagen was great, but let’s just say, there is now one very detailed review of this apartment, letting prospective guests know exactly the trade offs of what they are getting. I wrote the review that I wish I had read before renting. And to be clear, the apartment was a fine base , but we are particularly sensitive to traffic noise after spending months on the peaceful saddles of our bikes, so would not have chosen the place if fully informed.

The roll through Copenhagen of the teams for the team introduction ceremonies two days before the race starts.
So close to the riders!

Copenhagen was in full embrace of the Grand Depart, and the run up to the opening stage was a blast. Tour signs, decorations, stages, and buzz everywhere. Watching the time trial was fantastic as riders came by every minute, so there was hours of fun with the spirited Danish everywhere along the course. Seriously, every meter of the time trial course had at least a few people at the rails, and 10 or more thick at the popular spots. And yes, it helps to be 6’-5” to have a clear view almost anywhere.

Here comes the promo caravan!

The other interesting aspect of visiting at the end of June was the Midsommer celebrations and the somewhat bizarre 2-week tradition of “studenterkørsel”. This consists of students who are graduating from “gymnasiet” schools (upper secondary school) hiring old military/farm trucks to drive around and pick up other grads, visit each family, and generally rolling around Copenhagen (or anywhere in Denmark) blasting music, drinking, and dancing into the wee hours.

One of the studenterkørsel making a stop right outside our apartment. The party was just getting started!

You can hear them coming blocks away and it’s all very charming at first, but after the third day or fourth day, the charm starts to wear a bit thin. Oh, and did I mention they all wear little sailor hats, unique to each school. This is just one of the quirky and unique traditions in the Scandinavian countries, as they express incredible individuality despite their low populations. (Denmark is smaller than the SF Bay Area!)

My view of the time trial on an exciting corner about 5km from the finish
Heading towards Frederik’s Church with 50,000 Copenhageners on the Saturday all city ride.

After riding the time trial course with 50,000 other crazed cyclists the morning after the first stage, we headed off to Copenhagen central for our intercity train to Nyborg, with the goal of catching the finish of Stage 2.

One of the Danish National Cycle routes…just follow the signs…but we did miss the bicycle directional/distance signs at every bike route Junction typical elsewhere in Europe.

Despite a slightly frightening overcrowded situation with our loaded bikes on the woefully inadequate train platforms of the main station, we managed to beat the peleoton across the Great Belt Bridge to Nyborg. It was one of the busiest travel days of the year combining a summer Saturday, the TdF, and the massive Rosskilde music festival! Whoaa, we were missing our more usual shoulder season travel times.

Even the birdhouses had Tour fever

The Danish train system is ok, but is not as extensive or user friendly for tourists or bicycles as other Northern European countries. You have to reserve bike space on intercity (IC or ICL) trains and they are all high boarding trains, so it’s necessary to hoist your bikes up after scrambling to load your bags. Some of the less common regional trains are first-come first served for bike space, as well as the S-trains around Copenhagen. Secondly, the DSB App and website will not accept US credit cards, and has only one bespoke mobile payment system, which you can only sign up for with a Danish phone number!

Some nice stretches through the woods

So we had to go CPH central and wait in the queue to buy our paper tickets and paid 3x as much as the discounted tickets still available on the App the day before….There are a lot of somewhat protectionist schemes in the Scandinavian countries, such as most shops in the Netherlands not taking visa and Mastercard, only “Maestro”. But I get that you want to keep the money and jobs local, and not pay Visa or Mastercard 2% of every transaction in your country with no benefit of employment or trickle down from the company profits.

This shiny new stretch of path on Funen filled in some busier gaps on backroads

I should note that once you are on the trains, the staff and seating is all very comfortable.

Sizing up a beautiful Danish Smørrebrød sampler in Julesmimde

It was cool to take the train across the 18km Great Belt Bridge in advance of the peloton as you got an appreciation what they were going though. The bridge was closed for the Tour crossing, but you unfortunately can’t cycle across the bridge. (or maybe fortunately given the ever present winds.).

Cheryl with the Little Belt Bridge

Once at Nyborg station, we scoped out a good spot about 1.5 km from the finish line and enjoyed the local crowd, some of whom had been there all day (and perhaps drinking!?) Since we were on fully loaded on our bikes, there was no chance of fighting the thousands who had jockeyed into the finishing sprint stretch. And although they went by fast, there were a lot of stragglers due to a crash that split up the peloton about 2km from our viewing spot.

Chilling in the shade waiting for Stage 2 finish…and loving the 0% beers….cold and free.
Denmark is a leader in wind energy, and for good reason…the winds can be constant off the ever present surrounding bodies of water.

After the stage ended, we rode to the accommodation we had booked about 25km north of Nyborg as the town itself was booked solid. It all worked out great, as we were able to escape the race area quickly, hit a supermarket, and have a lovely early evening ride to our modest row holiday apartment.

Perfect backroads across Funen

The next few days we had some great cycling across Funen, a vast island in the center of Denmark that is linked to Sjæland by the Great Belt and then onto Jutland by the Little Belt Bridge. It’s a nice rolling area of forest and farmland and really fun riding, especially when you get a bit lucky with the winds, which magically turned from the east to the west as we turned in the same direction! Nice.

A very late sunset at our little apartment outside Nyborg.
Lunchtime stopover in Vejie, the starting city for Stage 3

We had a great visit connecting with some of my step family on the lovely coast for a few days, which gave us more opportunity to ask questions about the idiosyncrasies of life in Denmark. But as much as we would have loved to linger a bit longer enjoying the Danish summer scene, we had another deadline of getting to the Hoek of Holland to catch a night ferry to the UK on the 15th. So we spent the next few days riding south towards the German border and then made our way across to northern Holland by a few strategic train hops.

We trailed the 3rd stage of the Tour by only a day or two, which was already a signed national cycling route; very cool!
The Danes really loved the tour

It was a bit hectic as the trains and station transfers in were a bit crazy, and one of our well planned regional trains from Flensburg to Hamburg stopped midway and let everyone off in the middle of nowhere due to a sudden line closure. So instead of waiting for buses that might take hours to get there and pick up the hundreds of stranded passengers, we loaded up our bikes and headed to the next station, hoping to bypass the issue.

The Hanseatic City of Flemsburg Germany

Well, that still didn’t work as the next 3 stations were closed, so we came up with a Plan B, head 40km East to Kiel, a former Hanseatic League city and enjoy a night there, as we had heard the line to Hamburg would reopen the next day.

The somewhat choreographed chaos of the DB intercity bike car… everyone helps each other and spaces are reserved
Bremen, an overlooked gem and former Hanseatic city in northern Germany
Cheryl proud that we finally made it to Bremen, summer travel was a bit crazy.

Although sometimes traveling with bikes on trains is (very) stressful, it also gives you a unique freedom to pivot when an issue arises! This flexibility helped us again as the line from Hamburg to Groningen, Netherlands has been closed for years near the border, due to a failed rail bridge. But we were able to bridge gap easily by riding from the last Deutsche Bahn station in Germany to the first town on the Dutch rail system 20 km away!

Closing the rail gap with our bikes from Leer to Weener, Germany
Success! Ready to board our final train-bike-train leg to Groningen in Weener, Germany

So we breathed a big sigh of relief as our local and mellow Dutch train rolled towards the famous cycling city of Groningen. We decided to spend two nights there to enjoy it sufficiently, but then realized as we headed out two days later that we left ourselves a bit of cycling challenge to make our ferry to the UK on time, especially with the “hills of the Netherlands” (aka wind!)….more on our next leg soon.

Happy August to all -:)

Cycling in Sweden was a joy. A few reasons why.

I’ll start with the obvious, a reason every visitor to Sweden, no matter your mode or destination, will see and appreciate. Beautiful scenery.

At every turn you are greeted with lovely sights. Cozy houses, gorgeous landscapes, so many beaches.

Traveling by bike gives you the opportunity to slow down, stop, take photos, or just take a moment to enjoy what you’re seeing as you pedal along.

The top of a climb. Taking a well deserved break and a photo.
Malmö looking lovely on a grey day. Check out that double articulated bus in bright green livery. Very eye catching.
The ponies are curious and glamorous.

My second reason for loving the cycling in Sweden is the signage. Although we thought the National Route signs could have been a bit brighter, larger, and have a branded identity, the route was well signed and usually easy to follow.

We were following the National Route 1, Kattegattleden.
Typical route signage.
Into a wooded bit, the sign assures you that you are going the correct way.

My final reason is really a lot of reasons which I will file under amenities. When you’re bike touring you have needs that are pretty immediate, if you haven’t planned well it’s easy to get caught out. Hungry bordering on hangry and no town for miles and miles? Hope you bought some food for the day. Running low on water? Fingers crossed for a tap, or restroom, or friendly homeowner. Exhausted and need to just get off the dang bike and sit for a while? Benches please. Sweden rose to the challenge of all these needs, beautifully.

Picnic table with a view.
Alcohol free grapefruit Radler with our healthy lunch purchased in the town before. Shops had good food choices for picnics.
We loved all the little honor farms stands. We’d stop and get our Google translate on to figure out what was on offer.
Bathrooms! Although I am not at all shy about nature breaks it’s certainly nice to have tables, restrooms, and potable water in one spot. And a good opportunity to chat with other cyclists.
Another bench with a view. Sweden might be the most benched country we’ve cycled in so far. It’s such an appreciated amenity.
When you pass one of these.
You want one of these. (The wonderful partner, the pastry, and the bench.)
We do sit on the ground, especially when a fabulous view requires a climb up a sand dune.
But nothing beats relaxing in chairs put out by wonderful locals in the perfect view spot.

Sweden, thank you for bringing your absolute A game to cycle touring amenities. Things we’ll remember for our next trip: check the hours of the state run liquor stores, systembolaget. They are closed on Sunday and can get busy Saturday afternoon. Buy more alcohol free grapefruit Radlers, delicious and a perfect lunch accompaniment. And always stop at a bench for a break, a snack, or just to enjoy the view.

The happy travelers in Höganäs. We went for a swim off that boardwalk the next morning- another fantastic thing about summer cycling in Sweden – swimming.

So much more to tell about cycling in different countries. As we slow down a bit in the next month or two, and he’s not scrambling to travel plan each day, Rich will be able to write an informative deep dive into bike touring and the highs and lows of each county we rode in. Until then – enjoy your summer.

Bornholm Island by bicycle. Danish paradise?

The rocky east coast was beautiful day and night.

Bornholm Island was recommended by a friend as a lovely place to bike. So, on the ferry from Sassnitz, Germany to Ystad, Sweden we quickly made the decision to catch the Bornholm Island ferry from Ystad. We are very glad we made such a quick decision. That’s the joy of traveling the way we are, not much in the way of set plans, frequently making lodging reservations the day of. Sure, sometimes it bites us in the rear, but it also lets us be very flexible.

The island is 588.36 square kilometres (227.17 sq mi), so 3 days of cycling, staying 2 nights, was sufficient.

Rich made the smart decision to cycle counter clockwise so we would be on the sea side of the roadways and cycle tracks. We felt sorry for the folks driving their cars and camper-vans as we easily pulled over to admire views, and went off the cycle tracks to the footpaths to find quiet picnic spots. The cars and vans had to wait for a pull out which was not always in the best view spot.

Another gorgeous picnic spot of the world. And more amazing Danish pastries.

Yes, there was wind. This is an island in the Baltic Sea, and you know when you circle an island you will have tailwinds and headwinds, but the lovely views will help distract you when it’s a headwind.

The beautiful old post windmill will also help you understand the importance of wind power.
A post windmill is the earliest type of European windmill. The entire body of the mill turns around a single vertical post to face the wind. Later windmills had only a top that turned into the wind.
Our first night near Nexø. The calm coast was mesmerizing. The sand was like fine sugar.
The white chimneys are old herring smokers.
The cycling varies from separated pavement, separated dirt, and on road.
On the sea side, sightseeing is great by bike.

We headed to Allinge for our second night. A chat with two Danish ladies let us know that the annual People’s Meeting “Folkemødet” was starting the next day. Ah ha, said Rich, that’s why lodging was so booked up. Thankfully, the room Rich found was at a lovely hotel, the old travel hack of the least expensive room at a place with great amenities paid off again.

The Allinge Badehotel. After a good day riding those chairs were a big hit.
Bornholm Island is known for its talented ceramicists, whose work was on display at the delicious breakfast. We’d started the day with a brief swim in the very brisk sea.

Riding the island felt as if a postcard view was presented at every turn. Windmills, cottages, coastline, and an historic castle.

The late summer sunset meant we had to stay out late to see the cottage windows light up. Worth it.
Everything became a Folkemødet session meeting site in Allinge, even these lovely tall ships.
Hammershus is a medieval era fortification on the northern tip of the island.

Our final stretch of riding was around the northern part of the island and back to Rønne where the ferry docks. We rode what might be the steepest hills in Denmark, which did give us some amazing views, and through more historic fishing villages with old herring smoker chimneys. The smell of wild coastal roses will always remind me of Bornholm Island.

So many blooming roses in June.
The final stretch to Bønne, and the ferry to Sweden.

To the ferry, to Sweden, and on to more long summer days of cycle touring. Moving every night makes keeping up with our blog more challenging, so yes, we are behind on our updates! We stare at each other, exhausted after a long day riding and say “you gonna blog?” But we enjoy sharing our trip with everyone, and blogging helps us give structure to our experiences. Until next blog have a wonderful summer.

The happy travelers in Nexø, enjoying a late sunset.