Being tourists in our own country.

We remind ourselves frequently how fortunate we are. There are bumps along the road of constant travel, but when you get to wake up somewhere new and look around with fresh eyes, with no work thoughts or worries looming in your mind, it’s a revelation. The things you notice, the things you appreciate, take on an extra clarity.

Chicago with our good friends Michelle and Alan.

We’re lucky to have friends in Chicago who also know how to appreciate where you are. Michelle and Alan never tire of exploring and experiencing their own city.

The Berghoff, a Chicago institution. One that well deserves its storied reputation – first to be issued a liquor license post prohibition – everything we ordered for lunch was quite good.
What to do on a cold day? The Chicago Art Institute.

After a lovely time in Chicago we flew to Denver, caught the bus to Boulder and spent time with my brother and had dinner with one of our wonderful nieces.

Charlie Kitty helping to keep me warm on a sunny but chilly Colorado day.
The snow helped us find even more beauty.
The horses might not enjoy the snow as much as we did.
With my brother Steve. The snow was melting away as we left to head across the Rockies to Grand Junction.
Scratching our itch for Mexican food. A fortifying taco stop in Golden, Colorado.

One thing we miss a lot when traveling is good Mexican food. Once in the rental car for the drive to Grand Junction it was easy enough to stop for an early lunch. Xicamiti La Taquería Bistro for the win. We were headed to help out with my sister’s animals while she traveled for work. Our house and pet sitting skills came in handy.

The view hiking from Pollock Bench trailhead, Fruita Colorado.
Snack stop spots of the world.
No matter how often we see the red rock canyons of Colorado the formations are stunning.
Tasha the big guard dog, and the setting sun lighting up the book cliffs.
Barn cats enjoying the sun. And waiting for food.
Everyone gets in on the sunset photo shoot.
“What? Am I not a cow?”
Checking out the newest brew pub in Fruita.
Tasha looks calm and cool here, but when she saw a fox and tried to take off after it, I was happy Rich was in control of the leash.
Thank you Colorado. We got our Covid booster from a lovely team on this bus.
My sister came home and brought back the newest addition to her household. 12 week old Lorelei.
The happy travelers looking forward to a family Thanksgiving.

I do think Thanksgiving is a fantastic holiday. Spending time with your family or family of choice, Friendsgiving, and lots of yummy food – that’s my idea of fun. We’ll be off to visit friends in Palm Springs, visiting family in Moorpark, and then back to SF for two weeks. Happy Thanksgiving all.

New York Is Not New England!

So after a relatively quick recovery from Covid in Lisbon, we finally made it back to the United States! We rejoined a revised and somewhat compressed itinerary and still arrived JFK via TAP Airways new fuel efficient A330. (Ok for airplanes at least…)

Easy to come back to fall in Prospect Park

When our house sit in Boston fell through due to the owners case of Covid (ironic yes), Cheryl worked her magic and found a last minute house sit in Brooklyn. So after a quick change of plans and one obligatory night in an overpriced chain hotel close to the airport in Queens, we were off to Brooklyn by Long Island Rail Road (LIRR).

Happy back on the NYC rails!

The house sit was a bit of a challenge with two old cats, lots of medications, and tight quarters, but certainly a memorable experience and in a part of Brooklyn we have never explored, Park Slope. It also was just a block from 4 subway lines!

The 478 acre Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn is so nice that it inspired the development of Prospect and Central Parks

It was a magnificent fall weekend and the weather was perfect for strolling, not to mention all the Halloween decorations and costumes, although admittedly, it’s often hard to pick out costumes from just “Friday” in uber hip Brooklyn.

Battle Hill in GreenWood was part of the under appreciated Battle of Brooklyn in 1776. The British would occupy NYC for 7 years!

The walking in Brooklyn also felt invigorating after Lisbon’s lumpy limestones. We could once again stride briskly, with standard crosswalks, and short light cycles. The fall colors and crisp weather were so magnificent that Cheryl belted out in Prospect park that “New England is so beautiful this time of year”. Wait, we are NOT in New England!! This is New York!

Ferry hopping on the East River

After some of her doubts were quickly settled by Google, we strolled on, but I was reminded that I was married to a true West Coast woman. I would be reminded again when she couldn’t believe we had passed through some states in an hour or less. Wait, seriously just 15 minutes in New Hampshire?! And how do so many Dunkin’ Donuts survive?

Kicking back at the Brooklyn Bridge Park

After three days loaded with good friends, perfect bagels and NY pizza, we were off via subway and Metro North train to New Haven, CT where we could pick up a rental car right at the station. The car was by far the best solution for our ambitious and compressed schedule we had to visit all our friends and family over the next 8 days.

A taste of the rural Berkshires at the lovingly restored Old Mill Inn in Hatfield, MA
Leaving our spacious room at the Old Mill Inn, complete with weir and waterfall view (and soothing noise!) A treat after our cramped house sit in Brooklyn.

It was nice to be back in the U.S., as things felt familiar and interactions were clear. We sometimes forget that we are even in foreign countries anymore as foreignness is our new normal. And we immediately appreciated small things like ubiquitous ice (just try to find an ice machine in a European hotel.) faster paced restaurant service (tip please), and giant American salads (Yes, Elaine Benes you can have a really big salad)

Lake Champlain sunset from Burlington, Vermont. (New England…). The Adirondacks
of NY in the distance.
Visiting one of my mysterious cousins in Burlington on Halloween

As for the things we didn’t miss? Crazy political ads on the TV, giant tailgating pickup trucks, ignorance, and shockingly high prices compared to much of Europe. (Not necessarily in that order -;)

All Orange in Burlington

The cost of living surprises people when we mention it, as many generally assume that Europe must be more expensive than the US. First off, the strength of the US dollar is peaking, and second, many people take short trips to the most expensive (A-list) cities only in Europe, and so get a skewed view of costs in general.

Recommended road trip stops included Rein’s New York Deli in Connecticut. Home of delicious Reubens and Rachels.
Smiling at my delicious spicy noodles with tripe at Jibei Chuan in Boston’s Chinatown
Cycling on Boston’s extensive Blue Bike system was great with the $10 day pass which allows unlimited trips up to 2- hours each.
Heading to Boston on the Charles River Greenway. Nice to park the rental car for the day and get back on two wheels.

There also seems to be fewer corporate entities taking profits in the food chain of capitalism in other countries. Groceries, lodging, eating out, and transportation (except gas and parking), are cheaper almost everywhere we have been in the past 15 months. We won’t even bring up health care as costs are incomparable and often an order of magnitude less in Europe. (i.e. podiatrist in Bilbao, Spain $40, US $400+). Whoops, I brought it up again. So perhaps the social safety net and low health costs trickles through businesses to keep costs a bit lower.

Boston is so academic that the books overflow into alleys at the famous Brattle Bookstore

But we had a wonderful time on our big New England driving loop, and still managed to work in some lovely walks, and a day of cycling into Boston. We really enjoyed reconnecting with folks and the mountains, rivers, ponds, streams, and trees that seem to fill 99% of New England.

Trying to catch a leaf for good luck along the Fresh Pond in Cambridge
Waking my childhood streets with an old friend from the neighborhood was a joy.

I vow to come back to New England (and maybe even New York) more frequently, as staying in touch with your roots is important, and the feeling I had walking the neighborhoods of my childhood was joy, satisfaction, and peace. They are forever etched in my mind. No matter where else we go in the world, and whatever we experience, these memories of place will not be replaced. Experiences build in layers and hopefully growth and perspective with them.

Old Ship Church in Hingham. The oldest continuously operating church in the U.S.
Yikes, a bit shocking to see my childhood house being gutted and expanded.

So today is Election Day and we are now headed to Chicago for more family and friends recharge. We have our fingers crossed that people don’t take for granted the 200+ years of work it took to create the civic institutions and foundations for prosperity that we have.

Reconnecting with old friends all over New England was a trip highlight
Revolutionary War Graves in Hingham. America is a wondrous experiment.

Our system is not perfect and always a work in progress. But the institutions of democracy are unique, precious, and tenuous. And despite participating in many conflicts from afar, we have been physically isolated from the worst impacts of them, just as we are again isolated from the Ukraine invasion. We don’t share a border with an invader, and haven’t been occupied. But this could change in a flash. And the enemy could come from within. We can feel the fear in Europe as the free world knows a stable United States is still key to world stability.

Under the pier at Old Orchard Beach with my favorite traveling companion -:)

Long live democracy and happy travels!

Lisbon attitude adjustment.

Rich surveying the city on our way to the train station.

How much does your mental state affect your enjoyment of a place? For us in Lisbon the answer was ‘a lot’. Our mental and physical states had taken a beating by the time we got to our apartment hotel and made an initial grocery run. The positive Covid tests the first morning certainly didn’t help. Sometimes when traveling you just have to give yourself a mental shake, a stern talking to, and push through an attitude adjustment.

The Citymapper city logos make me smile every time.

You head out looking for beauty. Shake off your negative attitude and stride out, well, kind of limp out in our case. Spending two or three days inside while we tested positive didn’t help. Thankfully the rain made it easier to just hang out. A short careful walk, a quick masked grocery store run, and more resting – that was the extent of our first few days in Lisbon.

A framed and borrowed view.
Starting to notice the white walls and colored flowers.
Oh yes, this is helping my beaten down Covid brain.
The small streets are quiet and charming.

The mosaic sidewalks and plazas of Lisbon are beautiful. Under your feet is craftsmanship of a high quality.

The black basalt worked into the white limestone. Stunning.
It is called calçada portuguesa or simply calçada.

The calçada has a lot of positives, in addition to being beautiful it can adapt to uneven ground, or rise and fall with tree roots without cracking like concrete.

The calçada around the tree wells is not level., but still intact.
Tree roots becoming part of the paving.
Stopping to appreciate the work and imagine what a tough job this is, to piece together a mosaic sidewalk.

The slightly undulating calçada, and the diamond pattern made me feel as if I were walking on a giant snake. (Imaginative or Covid brain?)

You see the snakeskin pattern?
When this snakeskin gets wet – watch out!

We had some rain while in Lisbon, and that brought out the negative side of limestone snakeskin sidewalks- they get so slippery! We quickly learned to judge how slippery a stretch was likely to be based on how polished the white stones looked. The more shine, the higher your chance of losing your footing. If the sidewalks had the black basalt squares they were less slippery, or your foot wouldn’t slide as far since it would come into contact with a black stone and stop.

Slippery and in need of repair.

Apparently there just aren’t as many craftspeople available to keep the sidewalks in good shape, which means you have situations like the above photo. When it’s rainy people tend to walk in the street to stay upright. The car drivers seem quite used to it, but it’s still uncomfortable to have to watch out for cars while picking your way along the cobbled street.

Certainly not slippery. We didn’t get to see this street during a rainy period but I imagine it drains well.

Even with our positive mental attitude firmly in place we just could not enjoy walking around Lisbon. The sidewalks are simply too narrow, and not in great repair. In the more modern part of town, upslope, the traffic signals are set in favor of moving car traffic which means long long waits for pedestrians to get a crossing signal. The intersections can be huge, with so much extra pavement that car drivers have the ability to whip around corners at fairly high speed. We haven’t seen any of what we call Covid-era street improvements like we see in so many other cities, where street space has been reapportioned to give pedestrians and bikes more space, and increase safety.

That’s a narrow sidewalk. Not much that can be done here with the streetcar tracks.
A beautiful sidewalk. The more historic downtown area has sidewalks in better repair.
What can cheer up some slightly cranky post Covid travelers? A lovely lunch with adult beverages.
Lisbon really is beautiful. All those tourists can’t be wrong about that.

Part of our sour attitudes definitely came from the fact that a planned 3 night stay turned into 8 nights. Our positive Covid tests, coupled with the challenge of re-booking our flights on TAP airlines, kept us in town for the longest stretch we’ve spent in an A list tourist city since Copenhagen for the start of the Tour de France. We’re not always huge fans of A list cities, as they expose the negatives of concentrated tourism.

Keep that positive mental attitude going. A lovely almost 3 hour lunch in Cascais, a short train ride from Lisbon. We chatted for ages with a super nice Canadian/British couple at the next table.
Symmetrical potbellied trees. I think they are Queensland Bottle trees. Whatever they are – cute!
Rooster joining our coffee break.

Since this was our second time in Lisbon we do know one place that is guaranteed to make us smile. Parque Infantil da praça das Flores. We first visited this park on a trip to Cervecta Lisboa, in search of craft beer. We walked here from our Covid hotel nest/room and sat and enjoyed the calm. After testing negative we came and sat in the park with beer from the Cervecta. The calm attitude towards alcohol in parks, with kiosks offering coffee, snacks and drinks, and the local cafes allowing you to take your drink out to the park, is wonderful. It ensures there are always people around enjoying the parks. I would always rather sit in a park.

A happy traveler. You can see the kiosk in the background, and the beer place is to the left of the park.
Cheers to our favorite park.
Tired of beer? The kiosk has wine in little reusable plastic cups.
The happy travelers. Negative tests and ready to move on.

Farewell Lisbon, we intend to come back to Portugal and explore the B and C places, get off the beaten track a bit and spread the tourist love. Our travel world was not done throwing us curveballs yet, though. More on that in the next post from Brooklyn, NY.

Laying Low in Lisbon

Well, it was bound to happen. After over 14 months of travel, Covid finally caught up to us. Being really sick is definitely a low point of extended (or even short) travels. You just want to be home, have all your comforts, and be better. Luckily, our nomadic lifestyle has prepared us to deal with travel uncertainties a bit better and stay calm when a hiccup develops…even major ones.

It’s easy to find the charm of Lisbon, even recovering from a bout of Covid.

After we tested positive earlier this week, we immediately prioritized our next steps: push back the flight to the NYC, extend our lodging in Lisbon, notify our friends we were to stay with in the US, and think about contingencies.

So leafy and with a mild Mediterranean climate, Lisbon feels so much like San Francisco

We respect this new virus and know that it has brought untold misery on the world, and uncertain outcomes to even the healthiest. And although Covid hit us hard for a few days, the worst soon passed. We are lucky to be quite healthy, with daily exercise, good sleep habits, and a good diet (mostly, as we do indulge in local foods that may not be on any top 10 health food lists).

Our big adventure to the grocery store to stock up for an unknown duration of hunkering down. Rain and slippery limestone not helping!

Of course stomach ailments are a part of travel too, and we’ve had our share of them over many years, including India, Mexico, and Morocco. But one of the only nice things about stomach bugs is that they are usually over very suddenly. You often go from wanting to die on the toilet to wanting a double cheeseburger and a beer in hours. And we’ve always been lucky enough to only have one of us down and out at once. The other person is available to get hydration, meds, and make any travel changes.

Although revitalization and gentrification has spruced up most buildings in Lisbon, there are still a few fixer uppers available.

But this hit us both at almost the same time. We were a bit fatigued as we left Bilbao, and fully masked on our travels, but it didn’t feel like anything more than maybe some post-Camino tiredness and a little stuffy head (No cough, no fever.). But it had settled in deeper by the time we got to Lisbon and we both woke up Wednesday morning with brain fog, extreme tiredness, more congestion, and some decent aches and pains. The Covid rapid tests an hour later confirmed what we already suspected…we both had it.

Feeling Lisbon’s nautical roots on the Tagus

Luckily, we had booked an apart-hotel room for our 3 day stay and we were able to extend to 8 days in the same unit. It’s quiet and has two big windows looking at trees, and over 500 sq ft in two rooms, including (crucially) a kitchenette. So we are able to adventure out to grocery stores for supplies and have all our meals here, as well as lots of healthy fruit and veg, comfort food, and juices.

The iconic tram cars of Lisbon look like cute toys, but are still as functional as ever.

The two rooms allowed some space for us to relax separately in such cosy quarters. By Friday morning we both felt noticeably better, so Cheryl took another test. If she was still a strong positive, then we wouldn’t waste another test. So we were both thrilled when she tested negative, and I decided to test as well. Still somewhat positive…Today it was an almost imperceivable line, so I’m almost certain to be 100% negative by tomorrow!

Look, real laundry drying in the Alfama! Maybe a family still lives here….

So we are happy with our decision to push back our flights to the US to this Wednesday, as we’ve actually been able to start going out and enjoying some of this very beautiful city. We also had masked all day on our way to Lisbon, including the plane, and taxis, so hopefully we did not infect others, but it’s also made us realize that the virus is out there everywhere, and continuing our cautious ways in the future is smart, not to mention getting all the available boosters we can. We don’t want to go through this again (too soon) and don’t want to put anyone else unnecessarily at risk. But the virus is now a part of life, and part of travel, like it or not.

Cheryl’s negative test smile with the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge…always a double take for our beloved Golden Gate

Another item of note is the fact that we’ll be on Day 89 of 90 allowable Schengen days this Wednesday, so we’re also really glad that we left 6 visa days of validity slack in our plans. For those who don’t recall, a U.S. citizen can only be in the 26 country border-free Schengen Zone of Europe for up to 90 days out of any 180 day contiguous period without a country-specific extended stay visa. It’s a rule that catches a lot of long term travelers out.

Endless ups and downs across Lisbon.

This is our second visit to Lisbon, as we were last here for 4 nights in early 2018, along with visits to Porto, and Coimbra. It’s still charming, and I especially love the extreme vertical terrain, where you never quite know which way is out of a valley. Surprises await if you get off the beaten track, but one thing that’s noticeable from even our last stay, is that the penetration of tourism seems even deeper into the neighborhoods.

Keeping my distance for other tourists catching shots of the funicular in the Alfama

It’s the age old conundrum of tourism development: by coming to see what everyone else wants to see, you are slowly changing it, and before long, the native and organic neighborhood elements are completely flushed out. Lisbon is still real, and there are Portuguese tourists here as well, but the relentless conversion of neighborhood properties into short term rentals via AirBnB, new boutique hotels and spas, and easy air access for cheap weekend visits, has made much of it feel a bit overrun.

Lisbon’s revitalized waterfront includes this cool bio-algae pond with floating cork islands. (The Vino Verde corks have a home now!)
The grittiness of the the western port area was refreshing after the heavily touristed core

It feels like a City fighting to keep its character. We recognize this from San Francisco, and know that locals will always know how to avoid the tourists and the touristy restaurants, etc. But San Francisco had a big advantage over Lisbon in the past 40 years, it was much more expensive to buy property, had strict development rules, and better tenant protections. As the Alfama neighborhood struggled and investment waned, rules were adopted that if someone would buy a property and renovate it, then all the tenants could be evicted. Period. It saved a lot of the buildings from ruin, but apparently decimated the local neighborhood.

Blue skies and an ageless charm in the Alfama

It’s very evident today that only a few pockets of “authentic” neighborhood exist in the Alfama. But cities are always changing and Lisbon is adapting as well. Free transit for seniors and those under 23, a new waterfront revitalization, and a focus on preserving the unique culture.

Way to go Lisbon…free transit is a great way to encourage car free habits at a young age and make sure seniors are mobile

There are also stricter rules on foreign Golden Visas, which have allowed many foreigners to settle in Portugal, but have really changed many neighborhoods in Lisbon, Porto, and smaller towns in the Algarve to expat enclaves. It’s a tough balance for a developing country that had a lot of debt and challenges in the past, but has an amazing extremely welcoming culture, good education and healthcare systems, and a fantastic climate.

Always follow the empty stairway!

But I have meandered a bit too far off track but do promise that next time we come to Portugal, we will see even more of it, and try to spread the tourism love further….perhaps walking along 200km of the Camino Portuguese.

The happy travelers smiling again

Happy fall and looking forward to seeing some of you soon back in the USA!

Zarutz to Bilbao on the Camino del Norte.

The view after climbing out of Deba.

Is the Camino del Norte tough? Yes! Yes it is. Long days and lots of up and down. Add to that some rocky, muddy, rain soaked trails and you have long days that feel even harder than 15 miles/24 kilometers should.

An ancient stone road out of Zarautz.
Looking back towards Zarautz.
Cecily making friends with calf number 2570.
The churches with wide verandas made excellent places to stop and rest, this one is near Getaria.
A well placed vending machine was also a good place for a break.
Taking advantage of a farm cider opportunity did not make the remaining distance to Deba any easier.
After so much up and down on steep slippery trails, the public elevators of Deba were a very welcome sight.
These boat owners must be very sure footed. Deba harbor.

We had cloudy weather, but still mild. We hiked in some light rain, and some nice sun. It warmed up as our week went on, and by the time some of us hiked all the way into Bilbao on Saturday, it was warm. 80f/26c

Rocks left in memory and honor of lost loved ones.
The mountains provide a stunning backdrop.

Wait, some of us hiked into Bilbao? Yes some of us. One of us, me, Cheryl, ended up with tendinitis in my left foot. The day from Guernica to Zamudio was increasingly painful so I took a train the last short day to Bilbao, with Cecily.

Happy travelers leaving Altzaa.
A classic Camino photo. Happy to have four pairs of feet on this journey.
The days can be very long, but the company is great.
You look up and see a postcard perfect scene.
Over old stone bridges.
And by historic churches. I was wishing for a suspension bridge across this valley, but what a view back to the church.
Some of the cats are petable. Thank you for the photo Christine.
Leaving Guernica with smiles all around.
Our fearless leader.
The downhill was really starting to hurt my foot. But still smiling.
Last morning in Zamudio. Two of us are smiling because we’re headed for the train! Cecily is feeling run down and joined me on the train. Rich and Christine are looking forward to the hike into Bilbao.
Ticket to ride. Me and my bad foot.
Masks still required on public transit in Spain. Enjoying moving but not hiking.
Cecily enjoying the view.
The Camino route comes right past our hotel so Cecily went out to meet our Pilgrims, Christine and Rich.
Recovering with tea and wine. Ibuprofen and ice and rest came next.
Thank you Cecily and Christine for the Camino time with us.

When we decided to leave San Francisco and travel it was our hope we would be able to meet up with friends and go on adventures together. This was an adventure, and we were so happy to share it with such good friends. Christine and I met the first day at University a good many years ago. The joy of long time friends.

The happy travelers in Bilbao old town.

Rich and I will be in Lisbon next, after a few days enjoying Bilbao with Christine and Cecily, and on to New York City and New England. Visiting friends and family there and in Chicago, and then, Thanksgiving with family. Looking forward to that very much. Happy fall.

Hello Pilgrims. Camino del Norte, Irún to Zarautz.

It’s nice to be welcomed.

We’ve been talking about doing the Camino Del Norte for years, ever since we did the Camino Inglés and loved it. So here we are. Rich and I started in Irún and we met our friends Christine and Cecily in San Sebastián, and from there we will all walk to Bilbao.

Beer tap at a galatian restaurant in Irún. That octopus looks shocked. Probably because he’s on the menu.
Heading out of Irún, up to the Hermitage of Guadalupe.
On the ridge with an ocean view.

We won’t be going all the way to Santiago this time. Time constraints. But we are thrilled to be able to hike with friends.

Views like this are the reward for the climbs. Looking back down into Irún.
Our first night in Pasai Donibane, just across from the larger city of Pasaia
The scene in Pasai Donibane. Pretty quiet. Very scenic.
Breakfast in Pasai Donibane, see that yellow arrow on the wall? That’s a Camino marker. We follow those.
A pedestrian ferry across the harbor.
A nice start to the day, being ferried across.
A steep start to the actual walking.
Ah. Reward view.
Smiles on arriving in San Sebastián. Look at that water. And smiles because…
Friends arrive! So happy to be together in Spain with good friends.
We went on a food tour – yes, I was excited by the cheesecake stop.
Bar hopping with drinks and pintxos.
The Happy Pilgrims. Ready to leave San Sebastián.
The way can be rocky.
The way is frequently beautiful.
Pilgrims on the road ahead.
All the happy travelers in Zarautz, Spain.

Not many words in this post. The day gets away from you with 13 miles of walking, a lot of catching up to do, and tired legs to rest. Buen Camino!

How to take a vacation from your travels. And on to the next adventure.

It’s been over a year since we’ve been nomading, vagabonding, wandering – whatever it is we’re doing. The transitions can be very challenging, city to county side, country to country, bike touring to backpack travel again. How do we do it without burning out, or driving each other bonkers? Our secret superpower is a home base in France, thanks to wonderful friends who hopefully know how much we appreciate it. There we can swap gear, relax in familiar and comfortable surroundings (Oh, comfy couch, we love you.), and actually be in different rooms from each other! For hours!

Those are the smiles of travelers who get to be somewhere familiar and cozy, and swap out some gear.

We are super fortunate to have a private home where we can recharge, but we also have places which are familiar and comfortable that provide the same mental break. Bristol, in the UK. A city we love and have been to three times. Hove/Brighton will be one of those places as well. Both have good public transit, lots to do and see and good for getting around the area. Izmir, Turkey is probably one of the places we’ll go back to again and feel happy knowing our way around, and what we like to do and eat. Our home town of San Francisco, of course. A place where you can navigate without a map and know the bus routes and bike routes. That feels great, wherever it is.

The relief felt when encountering French bike infrastructure again is massive.

But wait, how did we get here? As Rich mentioned in the previous post, Hove to the Haute Savior takes about 13 not always easy steps, with loaded touring bikes. Trains, a ferry, rides to and from hotels, to and from trains, trains to trains, and finally a lift the last few steep miles. We love the UK, but the French have really zoomed ahead of the British with safe, comfortable bike facilities, especially in urban areas and to connect town and cities. From getting off the ferry in the dark and rain, and directly on to a protected cycle way to our hotel, to the next morning riding the riverside path that led us into Caen for our train to Paris, it felt easy and relaxed. We both breathed a sigh of relief. Oh yeah, this is fun! Bike touring with no safe route is so stressful. Bike touring with lovely pathways and signage? A joy.

Headed from Ouistreham where the ferry docks, into Caen.
Arrived at Gare Paris Saint-Lazare via train. Tick off another step.
Rue de Rivoli in Paris at rush hour. Headed to our hotel in the 12 arrondissement.

Let’s take a moment to recognize what an amazing transformation Paris has undergone. 10k at rush hour with loaded touring bikes and it was not at all stressful. Even though we probably caused some near misses as we stopped at red lights and the cyclists behind us kept going – there was no cross traffic so they were being safe, just not expecting the big old loaded American touring bikes to actually stop! We got the hang of it. The quiet of Rue de Rivoli was like a forest bath. The sound of voices and bike tires. No loud engines. No car horns. Just the lovely sound of people. I’ll say it again, cities aren’t loud, internal combustion engines are loud.

Gare de Lyon, waiting for our TGV platform to be announced. One night in Paris is too short a stay, but still fun.
Three trains later, yada yada yada, we made it!

So, now that our legs, backs, and bottoms are totally adapted to bike touring, after four months of travel by and with bikes, let’s mix it up!

Load up that backpack, lace up the boots, and let’s Camino.

While down in town at the weekly market, where we walked with our packs which have scallop shell Camino patches on them, a young man said to us – you have a long way to go. And then after I used my one good French phrase “I’m sorry, I don’t speak French.”, he said it again in English. (Oh, to be bilingual.) Why thank you for thinking we could and would walk all the way from the French border with Switzerland to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, but no. We will actually fly to Bilbao.

My Camino pack. Getting some air.

We try quite hard to not fly places. This will be our first flight since returning from Turkey in May. Unfortunately, avoiding air travel means you must have time, and more money than the cheap flights cost. But, we do what we can, and sometimes our chosen lifestyle means airplanes.

Lunch break on our first training day out with our packs.
Second day hiking. Ready for the rain.
And rain it did. We were grateful to find this shelter by a glider field so we could enjoy our lunch.

With packs on and trekking poles in hands we started walking. And walking some more. Hopefully we’ll be in good enough hiking shape for the long Camino days.

Third day. Up into to the fog we go.
A very helpful and beautiful orientation table at the peak of the climb. It did clear a bit on our way back.
He’s ready to Camino.
Practicing the Camino picnic. My Cleverhood rain cape doubles as a ground cloth for sitting.

What a place to be able to train for the Camino. The Lower Alps are simply stunning. Varied terrain, nicely signposted routes, amazing views. And beautiful cows. Making all that delicious cheese.

Respect our cows. Words to live by.
Who could not respect you? Gorgeous.
The Happy Travelers on our final training hike. The sun came out to bid us farewell.

By the time you read this we will be headed to Spain. We’re meeting dear friends from California to hike part of the Camino del Norte. Adiós y Buen Camino!

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!