Seville

Of course I start with an orange tree.

I had heard that the street trees in Seville are orange trees, Seville orange trees, the bitter oranges used to make marmalade, but I hadn’t expected quite so many orange trees.

Oranges and moorish architecture.

How many oranges trees? Reports vary, 14,000? 25,000? They do well in the climate and provide shade year round. Important in the hot summer months.

Orange trees surround a peaceful plaza.

The city employs people to gather the dropped oranges, and recently has started using the fruit to create electricity through fermentation. Most Seville oranges grown in the region are exported to Britain to make marmalade. But there are plenty on the streets here for youngsters to use as impromptu footballs. The scent of blossoms must be lovely in the spring.

I did my best to help out, having marmalade with breakfast and buying chocolate covered orange peels.

We also did our best on the tapas front. Vegetarians look away. Wandering the narrow streets we looked for small places where we could sit outside or in a window and watch the street life. One spot took us 3 evenings to get into, it was very small. The first evening we went at 8pm – ha! Good luck. The second evening we tried at 6:30, nope – already full. Finally we got there at 5:50 and scored a table in a window.

Note the jamón legs hanging above the bar.
Jamón ibérico. Now hanging out on our table.
We did it, got into the tiny bar.

Mission accomplished and appetites calmed we headed out to a flamenco performance on International Flamenco Day. It was just an hour long and stunning.

They wisely forbade photos until the very end when they said photograph away. I imagine it would be super distracting to look out at the audience and see phones held aloft.

We walked. And walked. And walked the narrow streets. Some so small I could touch both walls, some wider with cars just squeezing through, tires squealing as they slowly hit the curbs.

No cars here.
Rich added for scale. The narrow street leading to our hotel.
I need to start asking for a different pose.
Ah, there we go. Jumping for joy in a car free street.
Lunch outside in the Triana district.
Happy travelers. Off to Morocco next.

West Sussex in Autumn

The edge of an island.

Once again we are so thankful to have friends to visit and stay with. Would we have done this amazing coastal walk without our generous friends having us to stay and spending a day driving to the trailhead at Birling Gap and hiking with us? Probably not, and we’re so glad we got to see this coastline on a sunny day.

To my eyes it looks as if a giant ripped the edge off the land.
When hiking somewhere with amazing geology try to go with two world class geologists. You certainly learn a lot.
And if there is a calm Labrador along, all the better. Lunch break on the way to Cuckmere Haven.
Tide going out. Not far enough to walk back along the beach though. No desire to chance being caught.
The walk back was through woods and fields. Better then getting caught by the tide.
Arundel Castle, beautiful and the site of an audacious heist in May 2021 of Mary Queen of Scots rosary beads, carried to her execution in 1587. Folks arrested, but where is the loot?
Public footpaths for the win!
Waiting for one of the four trains it took us to get to our friends (rerouted due to previous‘incident’. It would have been only two trains if we’d transited through London, but Rich loves a travel challenge.
As I’ve mentioned before, our car free travel in the UK is facilitated by friends willing to pick us up and drop us off at various train stations. We appreciate it so much.
Gazing with adoring eyes. Or, just hoping for breakfast?

The Midlands

Leicester, you had me at your statues of women. Alice Hawkins.

“Alice Hawkins was a leading English suffragette among the boot and shoe machinists of Leicester. She went to prison five times for acts committed as part of the Women’s Social and Political Union militant campaign.” Five times to prison. That is commitment and bravery. Is that what we all need to do to force action on climate change?

Honoring the female workforce of Leicester, this seamstress works tirelessly on a stocking seam. Hosiery was an important part of Leicester manufacturing.

Our niece picked us up at the train station and we walked The New Walk, a 200 year old pedestrian street.

Very impressed that this lovely promenade never fell to the incessant demands of car traffic.
It is a lovely way to walk and connects Leicester University with the downtown.
Closer to the University. Looking very autumnal. And yes, Rich added for scale.
Nottingham & Beeston Canal.

We took a day trip into Nottingham, only 20 minutes on the fast train, and did what we do wherever we are: walked. In this case along the canal for more of a favorite activity, narrow boat peeping. There are no boats on the move right now but plenty moored up.

Castle Marina. Where narrow boats spend the fall and winter.
Lunch at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. Built into the sandstone walls surrounding the castle. Nottingham has quite a cave thing going on.

And back in Leicester we saw the statue of Thomas Cook, a name well known to travelers, holiday package bookers, and high street strollers. The man who first sent travelers off on package tours was indeed born and started his business in Leicester. The first trip he organized was to Nottingham. From Leicester. He was also a temperance man, so you can be sure those first tours were not big partying tours.

There is a nice display about Mr. Cook in the Leicester museum.
At the University of Leicester, happy travelers.

So thank you Midlands, there is more to you than most people might expect. And now, back to London for one night and off to Morocco. And thank you to our niece for having us to stay.

Kitty Heaven

Owning the room. Lounging on top of the mini fridge.

We found my favorite pub in the entire world. Yes, we’ve been to cat cafes around the world – oh, we’ve seen some things.

Cats gotta box sit.

A cat cafe in Thailand with color matched cats. A resort in Malaysia with dozens of well behaved rescued cats who happily lounged at the pool, in your room, and under the tables at the restaurant. A San Francisco cat cafe where you could adopt the cats. We’ve discussed the absence of cat bars and what you could call one. Suds and Siamese. Pints and Pussies. Ale and Alley Cats.

A pint of milk please.

But here in Bristol we visited The Bag of Nails. Going forward always referred to as Kitty Heaven. Cats for me, beers for him. Kitties on the bar, kitties on your lap, at one point eight cats were visible in this not large pub. Oh, did I not mention that my wonderful travel guy is allergic to cats?

So of course the cats love him. First lap sitter goes right to Rich.

Cat cafes tend to be very controlled environments. More so in California due to health regulations. Here at Kitty Heaven the list of amusing but serious rules includes one definitely aimed at me “no squealing.”.

A Siamese scans the room.

We only stayed for one pint, but what a happy pint it was.

Sit at the bar for more cat access.
Besides the cats being adorable, you can be fairly confident that you have at least one thing in common with the other patrons: you all like cats.
The rules.

Vinyl on the sound system. Beer in hand. Cat on lap. Heaven.

The boxes are labeled.
Little black kitty on the move.
Oh yeah, no idiot pub crawls!

If you’re a cat lover and in Bristol, it’s a great place to visit. Review the rules first and do not squeal.

Wales

We are so fortunate to have good friends who live in Wales. Staying with them allows us to see another side of this beautiful green coastal area.

The Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. Cute puffins and challenging Welsh language.

Green fields means rain. Rain means rainbows. We have not been disappointed by the quantity of stunning rainbows.

Rainbow over Tenby.
A nice blue sky background for this one.
Full Tenby South Beach rainbow with Rich added for scale.

For anyone who hasn’t heard a Welsh accent, find the UK series – Gavin & Stacey, a Welsh and English comedytelevision series written by James Corden and Ruth Jones about two families: one in Billericay, Essex; one in Barry, South Wales. (From Wikipedia.) A really fun series.

All the signs are in Welsh and English, pronunciation is tough.

Walking on the coastal path is one of our favorite things to do. Be ready for wind and rain this time of year, and be ready to be blown away by the geology. It helps to have someone drop you off at one spot, and you either hike back to home, or they generously pick you up hours later.

Looks like the setting for a good gothic novel.
Terrifying view down to the ocean down a slot.
This area cries out for a geologist guide to accompany you.

So how did we get here and still stick to our car lite car free ethos? Train from London to Swansea – a minus one minute transfer there where most of the train passengers started dashing to the connection to Camarthen- it was held but no one told us all that so it was a bit of a mad scramble. Our wonderful friends picked us up by car in Camarthen. There is a line to Tenby but there was no connection we could make that day.

On the busy train to Camarthen. Nice to see the trains busy.

It reminds us that to replace car use, alternatives need to be reliable, affordable, and easy to figure out. The UK has a much better passenger train system than most of the US, but when driving and flying are still cheaper and easier options, or you don’t have someone to help you out with a ride, it can be tricky to rely on trains. We’re slow traveling so we don’t mind lots of train time, but to sacrifice time and more money is a non starter for most. Non peak hours trains are much cheaper, not traveling on a Friday or Sunday – much cheaper. But if you need to travel on peak or are meeting usual office hours, you will pay more and it’s not cheap. For us, not having to rent a car (yet), and having friends who don’t mind picking us up at train stations (yet), and being willing to walk from train stations wearing our rucksacks to hotels 20 or 30 minutes from the station, means we can be as car free as we have managed. Long may we continue this.

Happy to have the flexibility to travel the way we love.
And happy and lucky to have friends who live in lovely Tenby who have us to stay..

Next up? Bath, Bristol, friends in West Sussex, Leicester, and then Morocco. Rich will write about the travel planning during COVID challenges. Happy travels.

London weekend.

Favorite thing about London? The transport. Transport for London (TFL) has quite a task keeping the underground, overground, and all the amazing buses moving. Once again, Citymapper for the London win. Using that app allows us to get anywhere in London on any mode. Turn by turn call out bike directions, we love you, especially the dock to dock bike share feature. As Rich notes, that was the missing piece when using bikeshare and directions. If you aren’t using Citymapper as your preferred transit/mobility app, give it a try, we think it’s the best.

Backpack mode in the tube. It was a shock to have everything on our backs instead of on our bikes.

We met up with one of our fantastic nieces for lunch and a walk. We biked around on the cycle share Boris Bikes, also known as Santander Cycles. we went to the Imperial War Museum and lost track of time in the amazingly well curated World War 2 exhibit. We didn’t take many photos. Too busy enjoying the city.

After lunch walk on the Grand Union Canal. I have a thing for narrow boats and locks.

The Imperial War Museum reminded us of how great museums can be. The WW2 exhibit was next level curating. Diverse, engaging, and accessible. It made me want to write a sternly worded email to the Louvre about the problems we saw there while visiting Paris. We had been in the Louvre for about 3 hours when my wonderful husband said “Do they even exhibit any female artists?” And I thought I was the staunch feminist in this marriage! Good question, I replied, proudly. The top item on my sternly worded email to the Louvre would be a request that they call out in a map, or with specifically marked or colored description tags, the few female artists they have on display.

London bikeshares.

When I did an online search for information on female artists at the Louvre it turned out we had noticed several, without being aware that they were works by female artists. I don’t believe any of the art covered in the needlessly complicated audio guide, (Nintendo based, a big hit with the mostly over 55 users I’m sure), was woman painted. Next in my email I’ll mention the badly laid out cloak room/lockers, lack of drinking fountains, lack of signage and directions, and the exit through the shopping mall with again, no signage on how to exit the shopping mall. The art is, of course, amazing, but the curation is not up to date. We certainly didn’t plan our Louvre trip very well, we never even made it to one wing – we simply couldn’t find it – but as Rich said, a well curated museum shouldn’t need a plan of attack. It should be more intuitive and obvious where you want to go.

Pub lunch photo taken by our amazing niece.

We have reveled in being able to communicate again with our move to English speaking UK. After so many weeks in countries where we spoke the language poorly (Rich’s French is pretty good, mine is awful), how nice to understand and be understood. It was also lovely to meet up with friends from SF, and our grad school attending niece. After many weeks of mostly each other for company we both enjoyed the time with friends and family. Where next? Off to Wales.

Farewell chateaux.

Amboise in the setting sun. Golden light.

As we pedaled along a few days ago and did the math, we realized we’d been bike touring for 48 days. That’s our longest trip ever on bikes. As I write this, on a train from Tours to Dijon, it’s day 50. It’s certainly a lot of work, not the pedaling part although that can be tough at times, but the moving most nights. The unpacking (I call it the bag barf, where I simply turn my panniers upside down and let everything cascade to the floor.), the packing, and of course the travel planning done exclusively by Rich. Each day he checks terrain and weather and towns that look nice for a stay, one night or two, the feeding of two hungry cyclists – thank goodness for hotel breakfasts – whoops, watch out for Sunday, everything closes about noon, be ready for that!

Riding to the château of Chambord on a misty cool morning.

But everyday at one point or another, while looking at the river, or a chateau in the mist, or collapsed on a bench for a tea break, we look around and say to each other- wow, this is amazing and we are so lucky.

A perfect bench for a break.
Chambord in moody black and white. Yes, scaffolding. Imagine how difficult is to keep up the maintenance on a heap like this!

The things that we notice while traveling the speed we can pedal are so detailed. Wild boar in the forests on the way to Chateau Chambord. Hunters in orange vests ranged out alongside a forested patch near the river, hunting boar we assume. We stopped to watch, heard the hunting dogs baying, and saw a deer come running out of the forest across a field, followed by a hare who ran so fast and so far – completely spooked and relived that the men in orange were not after him. Gunshots rang out, we checked our brightly colored rain jackets were on for increased visibility, and pedaled away. Just another day on the bike tour, but one I hope we’ll always remember.

A morning ride though the vineyards.

At a Sunday stop at a bakery for sandwiches we chatted with a super nice British couple who’d been living in France for 30 years, he was a cyclist and wanted to chat about our American made bikes. As Rich described our route and we mentioned that we had taken some train hops he shook his head and his partner said, oh, he thinks trains are cheating when you’re bike touring. We don’t. We haven’t owned a car in 21 years, we’ve earned these train hops.

At the train station in Tours.
Waiting for the nice railroad worker to lead us across the tracks at Nevers, where there are no ramps and no elevators.
On our way to Dijon on a lovely new train.
From Dijon in an older train car. Down that corridor are actual separate compartments.

We’re headed back to our French “home base”, looking forward to some time not moving, cooking for ourselves and hiking in addition to biking. We’ll leave the bikes there, swap our our luggage and head by train to Paris, then to London, and then to Tenby, Wales.

Seeing the world one kilometer at a time, with plenty of breaks.

Loire Valley continues. Now with more head cold.

Morning in Châteauneuf-sur-Loire.

Bike touring with a cold reminds me of how professional riders will say “I just didn’t have the legs today.” to explain what happened on a disastrous stage of a tour. Well, that was me for a few days. I just didn’t have the legs.

Smiling bravely as we start off one morning.
Château Sully sur Loire.
Picnic at the Chateau. Note the little bottle of rosé.
Picnic assembled from the leftovers of our apartment cooked dinner the night before. And some grocery store additions.

The wild Loire River continues to delight us with its scenery, and we’re meeting more cycle tourists too, which is fun. While we were stopped at a picnic area a French guy pulled up, and excused himself from joining us at our table by explaining he wasn’t vaccinated, so we chatted from a distance. He was planning on going to the US ‘when this COVID stuff is over’ and ride from San Diego to Vancouver, Canada, and then across Canada to Montreal. When we said something about distance, that is a long ride, he responded with a most French shrug of his shoulders and a noise that sounded like ‘bwooeef’.

Chilly mornings and loads of stops to read about the wildlife.
Never say no to a bench. Who knows when you’ll find another one. Note the clumps of mistletoe in the tree behind Rich.
Another great cycle tourist, Daniel, who was waiting for his son whose Brompton folding bike had a tire problem.
The traditional fishing boats of the Loire are so beautiful.
More boats, we didn’t see any in use but quite a few anchored. Rich added for scale.

We spent two nights in Orleans to rest up. We both had head colds but I got hit harder then Rich. I spent most of our rest day in bed.

Never too tired or sick to resist posing as Jeanne d’Arc as we approach Orleans.
Evening light at the river in Orleans. The river is wide and chocolate brown, we could understand why New Orleans in the US reminded someone of Orleans.
Heading out, mostly recovered, to see more chateaus.
Across the river the happy cyclist goes on.

This area of the Loire is blessed with many chateaus. I promise pictures of some of them, but it’s not so easy to actually go inside and visit when bike touring. There is the problem of not only locking the bikes up, but securing the bags as well. So far we’ve been content with merely looking at and reading about the chateaus.

A slightly abandoned air about this one.

Happy pedaling!

Alsace wine trail during harvest.

The Route Des Vins.

This is the kind of riding Rich loves – rollers up and down, quiet roads with only occasional cars and busy but careful farm vehicles bringing the grapes in.

Through the vineyards on smooth pavement.

This is the kind of riding I love too, through wine county.

A lovely view and a bottle provided by the BnB. Heaven after a long ride up the hill to the BnB.

Harvesting here looks different from what we see in California. In Germany a machine rolls along actually shaking and pulling the bunches of grapes off the vines. Here, a machine rolls along cutting the lower leaves off and leaving the bunches of grapes hanging naked below the vines. Then, we saw teams of locals, mostly women, wearing aprons and wielding clippers, start into the vineyards.

The pre harvest machine.
Rich added for scale in front of the clipper machine.

The towns we rode through for the past two days were each more charming than the last, making for some slow riding as I stopped to take photos and read tourist info plaques. Blienschwiller, Itterschwiller, Mittelbergheim, Barr, Bernardswiller, and Molsheim where we had a wonderful long lunch and sheltered from the rain on day one.

A typical town with German and French influences.

This area was German and then French, making for some mixed up seeming names. One war memorial I stopped to read had Jean Michael Herzog among others, and of course the usual and heartbreaking lists of family names from both wars – a reminder of the sadness and horror that must have felt as if it were stalking families.

Rich waiting patiently as I gush over another charming town.
Marking the very first time we ever outlasted the locals at lunch. We quick Americans are usually fast lunchers, but it was raining and our check in time was 3:30.
Smiling in the rain, the amazing lunch and carafe of wine helped.

The historic Canal de la Bruche was our route out of Strasbourg and reminded us of the many UK narrow boat vlogs we watched during lockdown. Beautiful.

Watching a swan ply the canal.
Someone had helpfully spray painted a 17% on the hill to let me know how steep it was. And yes, those are waterproof socks I’m wearing with my sandals. Chic, no?
Riding out the rain and a rainbow ends in the vineyards. Perfect.
A rest break in Barr with this view.
The only downside to biking a fairly long day is my unwillingness to stop and taste. Vin Nouveau is a new fascination of ours.
Happy cycling couple.
A smaller town, only 7 wineries listed. Rich in the background enjoying our picnic lunch on day two.
Happy Alsace wine drinker. The long day of passing vineyard after vineyard and smelling the pressing going on in each town was finally rewarded at dinner in Colmar. The small green stemmed glasses are traditional.

We’re in Colmar now, here for two nights in this charming town, then on to more adventures. Our plans are changing as we ride and explore. Happy pedaling!

Down the Loire Valley by bike and train.

We left Colmar by train on a forecast rainy day and did a 3 train hop to Nevers during which it rained very satisfyingly hard. It made me very happy to hear that rain pelt the train windows while we were warm and dry inside.

Almost all of the French trains we’ve caught have been low floor boarding with good bike space.
Happy travel planner. One transfer was cross platform and the other had ramps to and from the platforms.

Train travel tip with bikes: always leave super early to ride to the train station, you never know what will suck up that extra time. So far we’ve had: crowded market day along the route, broken elevators requiring unloading and carrying bags and bikes up and down stairs, massive construction projects leading to circumnavigating the entire station, and uncooperative ticket machines (we usually book on line but the website was down.). So pad that trip with extra time. The worst that happens is that you’re early and get to hang out on the platform wondering which carriages will have the bike logo on the side – near where you’re standing or a trot down the platform?

Low floor boarding. A fan favorite.

We’ve found the local French trains, Ters or regional, reliably have a bike car at the front of the train, and usually at least one if not more further down. If you’re really not sure where the bike space will be, figure out which way the train is traveling and stand at the end of the platform where the train arrives. You’ll be able to see the marked bike cars and can always run down the platform if you need to.

Café Velo in Nevers, France. We stayed in one their lovely upstairs apartments.

Another good tip is to make sure you can take your panniers off quickly, not only to make the bike lighter to lift up stairs, but to be able to stack the bikes efficiently in the bike area. Also so that you can do a quick bag removal, toss the bags into the train and then lift your bike in all while panicking that the train will try to leave without you. The station at Nevers did not have ramps or elevators, us and three other cyclists did the unload bags, carry down carry up, wondering aloud what people with mobility issues would do. We found the answer to that question, which is hail a member of staff and they will help you cross the tracks at the end of the platform. Strictly prohibited for general use. Of course, we were also told that finding a member of staff can be difficult, but now we know.

A narrow street in Nevers.
The cathedral was bombed “accidentally” during WWII and rebuilt. The stained glass windows are from about 1948 and so modern.
The St. James scallop shell in the upper right corner caught my attention.
And then we ran into two pilgrims walking the Camino and took photos together. They had about 1,333 kms to go to Santiago Spain. They absolutely looked up to the challenge.

We rolled out of Nevers and started the Loire River Eurovelo Route 6, heading west.

Quite a bit of levee riding at times, but those smiles mean we had tailwinds.
Lunch in Pouilly Fumé, drinking… Pouilly Fumé.
This canal has the unromantic name of lateral canal to the Loire. We renamed it canal of green.
We hit rain and found shelter at a Loire nature center. We stayed for quite a while while the heavy rain passed through and ate everything in our food pannier. Made for a varied and interesting lunch.
Met a lovely young American cyclist also sheltering from the rain, Toby. It was his first bike tour and I’d say he’s hooked.
The Loire is a wild river. Loads of islands, sandbars, and very untamed banks. Amazing bird life.
My new favorite style of picnic table, built up against the parapet so you can take in the view.

One of the joys about not having to plan too far in advance, or being so busy sorting out places to stay, so that we don’t really know what’s coming up, is being surprised by something like the Pont Canal de Briare.

And what is it, exactly, this exciting canal?
Only water over water! Our old friend Lateral Canal crosses the Loire River in a 662 meter stretch of gorgeous steel and masonry. That’s almost half of a mile of aqueduct canal.
Green painted creatures guard the canal.
Across goes Rich. We were delighted that Eurovelo 6 travels on the canal towpath.
This canal deserves all the photos. It’s a marvel.
Riding into Gien. That’s the lovely Château de Gien behind an equally lovely Rich.
Happy cyclists enjoying a picnic table with a view of the wild Loire River.

We may push on to the Atlantic Ocean, or we may not. There are more Châteaus to see and more wild river to enjoy. Happy pedaling.