21 years car free, 11 years serving on transit boards helping SF and Caltrain move forward, and now, traveling the world. Happy doesn’t begin to describe how I feel when traveling with my hubby TravelRich.
I’ll start with the obvious, a reason every visitor to Sweden, no matter your mode or destination, will see and appreciate. Beautiful scenery.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Riding the island felt as if a postcard view was presented at every turn. Windmills, cottages, coastline, and an historic castle.
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.
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.
We have a rule when cycle touring that we don’t take a pastry break until 20k/12miles into our day of riding. And then it may take some kilometers to find the exact right spot to take a break. We try to stop at a bakery in the town where we slept, or the next town, so we hit the bakery when they have a good selection of treats and sandwiches. I usually fill my Kleen Kanteen thermos with tea, and we’re ready for our pastry break.
We could call it elevenses, with our American habit of adopting things from other cultures we have embraced the British elevenses, but we’re sometimes earlier than 11:00. Second breakfast also works to describe this break.
We take turns going into the bakeries and procuring food. One of us stays with the bikes and one braves the bakery. It can be stressful if it’s busy, but usually the women behind the counters are helpful and patient.
I think I found the name of it in a streusal cookbook by the checkout line at the grocery store: Streuseltaler, or Streuseltielchen.
Our mornings always start with the bakery and lunch discussion. Where to stop, when to stop. We always err on the side of stopping at the one in town unless there seems to be a better bakery up the road, and in Allinge on Bornholm Island we stopped in town which was very busy with Folkemødet 2022 starting.
Folkemødet, The People’s Meeting, in Allinge is Denmark’s festival about society’s opportunities and challenges. It made for a very busy town, Island actually, and was fun to see the set up and the people arriving. But, back to pastries, and elevenses.
Yes, there is more to cycle touring than eating yummy baked goods. There are hours of cycling, head winds, tail winds, the occasional mechanical issue and a small slow speed tumble – me. Too many pastries maybe? Only a small bruise. We’re now in Copenhagen for a week and will, for the first time, see a stage of the Tour de France. The first stage is in Copenhagen this year. We’re also excited to get our bikes tuned up for the first time in two years. The supply chain issues seems to have cleared up, and the shop we stopped by here in Copenhagen said, sure no problem, we can do it in a day. Music to our ears. More posts soon, with more riding.
If it sounds like we can’t make up our minds where to go, that’s partially correct. We took a train from Dresden to Rostock, planning on staying somewhere out of Rostock and closer to where we planned on catching a ferry to Sweden.
We rolled into Graal-Müritz pretty late in the day, but with plenty of sunlight. It is a popular vacation destination for the eastern part of Germany, and we again felt like the only Americans in town. It’s fun to see the surprised reactions from people when we say we’re from California – what are you doing here? As confirmed by German friends, most Americans visit Berlin, Munich, maybe Frankfurt or Hamburg, but rarely make it to the smaller destinations. That is one of our favorite things about bike touring, staying in the small places, being the only foreign tourists.
Our ride to Stralsund was 94 kilometers, one of our longer days. With so much daylight, it’s not as daunting to agree to a long day. You know there is time to take loads of breaks. The tailwind helped a lot too.
We were only about 20k from Stralsund when my right shifter, for the rear chainrings, broke. Suddenly I’m riding a single speed bike loaded with gear. Rich managed to get me into a more realistic gear in the back and we limped to town. Now begins the strategizing and planning on how and where to get my bike fixed. Oh, did I mention it was Saturday afternoon when my bike broke? And we know that nothing is open on Sunday. No bike shops, barely any grocery stores. Now what? Stay in Stralsund for two nights and hope the not very encouraging looking bike shop can fix my bike?
We took the train to Sassnitz on Sunday where a bike shop fixed my broken shifter on Monday morning, which allowed us to catch the Tuesday morning ferry to Sweden. And, gave us a bonus day in Sassnitz to hike the UNESCO listed beech forest and amazing chalk cliffs.
So what do you do on a two hour ferry ride? I read. We have tea and pastries. And Rich travel plans, since we got on the ferry knowing only where it landed in Sweden. Ystad. Rich was still deciding where to go next. We had gotten a recommendation from a friend to go to Bornholm Island. Beautiful and great cycling, he said.
The second ferry left about ten minutes after the first arrived, so if we hustled off and rode fast around the corner we could spend only ten minutes in Sweden before leaving again. Assuming we could find the second ferry and get on in time. We did. The ramp was pulled up just after we and two other cyclists rolled onto the ferry. Phew. It feels good when it works out.
After seven months of backpack travel we’re reunited with our touring bikes. Izmir, Turkey to Geneva, Switzerland was another one of those dislocating travel days. We’re super lucky to have a place to land in France, very good and generous friends who allow us to leave our bikes and extra bags at their place, so the switch from Turkey to a mountain side French village was a known and comforting destination.
The lush green views were a big change from the blue waters and Mediterranean climate of Turkey as well. We hit peak spring in France. So green. Flowers blooming, bees buzzing, ants crawling. We dusted off our bikes and went for a ride up the valley to make sure everything still worked, both on the bikes and our bodies.
Then the tougher part. Where to next? Our original plan had been to ride the Baltic Coast but the war in Ukraine made us decide that getting around Kaliningrad was a bit too difficult for the time frame we have. So we’ll save that for another year.
After a fantastic week in France we headed to the Geneva train station to catch a train. It’s nice to start off with a lovely long downhill ride.
But where? You’re still asking. Where are you going?
The first train took us to Basel, Switzerland. We had a nice evening and morning walking around and enjoying the city and then a second train took us to Mainz, Germany.
The worst train boarding is when you don’t know where the bike storage space is. This is when you find yourself trotting down the platform wheeling your bike in a bit of a panic. Thankfully German and Swiss train apps let you know where the bike storage is. So, the only scramble is getting the bikes and bags on the train. Rich does the bike lifting and I do the bag lifting. One final count of bags every time we get on or off a train, and we settle in.
From Mainz we’re riding East/Northeast towards Dresden and towards the German Polish border. That’s the scenario for now. As we all know, plans are never set in stone. I always need a few days cycling to convince myself I can still do this. Get on the loaded bike day after day and turn the pedals over, cranking out the miles. The first day’s euphoria turns into the second day’s tiredness, and the third day’s exhaustion.
But with my best travel companion in front of me (I draft behind him shamelessly), I push through the tired cranky afternoons and know that the pedaling legs will come back. More fun cycle touring to come.
We weren’t expecting Turkish food to be so varied, and so good. Neither of us have much experience with Turkish food, it’s not something we have a lot of in San Francisco- or at least not that we know of or frequent. We knew it would be good, healthy, and fresh – or so we’d heard, but our expectations were absolutely exceeded. Some of you will love this post loaded with photos of food. Others may roll your eyes and imagine us doing the thing where no one can touch the food until someone properly snaps a cell phone photo. Yes. We did that. A lot.
We don’t have photos of every meal, or every restaurant cat (or dog). And I can’t tell you what each dish was, but overall the food was fantastic. Were there awkward moments when we stumbled through a menu with no English translation with the help of Google translate – yes, many! Did we have waiters bring us English language menus that seemed to have no relation to the Turkish menu? Yes. There was some pointing at other table’s food. We muddled through and enjoyed a lot of good meals.
Most of the restaurant dining we did was outside, or by large open windows, but always, always, in the shade. It wasn’t too hot anywhere yet, but I am notoriously sun adverse.
Our one complaint about Turkish dining is the cigarette smokers. Before we pick a table we carefully judge the prevailing wind direction and eyeball the other diners – who’s got cigarette packs on the table, who’s almost done eating and therefore likely to light up? We come from San Francisco which has some of the strictest rules in the world – no smoking at outside tables, no smoking near doors or windows – and it’s lovely to be able to live your life rarely inhaling secondhand smoke. In Turkey you are closer to a smoker than a cat at all times and you will usually be inhaling someone’s smoke. If no one is smoking near you right now, just wait a few minutes. Someone will light up.
We rented an apartment in Bodrum and cooked for ourselves for five nights, so no food photos from that town. We also had an apartment in Datça, with minimal cooking facilities though, so we had breakfast and lunch in, and dinner out.
One thing we fantasized about during the long months of stay at home pandemic were hotel breakfasts. Remember that one, we’d say, in Kuala Lumpur? Or that one in Sweden with the fish? We like our breakfasts. A hotel breakfast buffet done well is a travel memory created.
Turkish breakfasts are huge. Loads of greens and veggies and olives, breads and cheeses, fruit, eggs in spicy tomato sauce. Dried fruit, nuts, yogurt, and as many cups of çay (black tea) as you can handle. And coffee of course, Turkish coffee.
I hope this trip down food memory lane was as fun for you to browse as it was for us to eat. Any restaurant choosing squabbles we may have had are forgotten. Any long treks up and down streets considering and rejecting places to eat only helped sharpen our appetites. To all the restaurant cats I didn’t manage to share meals with, I’m sorry. I did my best.
Like many tourists/travelers, we really enjoy visiting places that are not so clearly tourist attractions. Selçuk is one of those, the town nearest to Ephesus, a 10th century BC settlement. What, you ask? Ephesus is obviously a big attraction, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015, with impressive ruins and ongoing archeological work. How is that not a tourist place? All right, it is. But these days many of the visitors seem to arrive for the day, bused in off a cruise ship.
The town of Selçuk is charming. Some of the cruise ship buses do stop at the Archeological Museum in town, where you can view the most impressive treasures uncovered at Ephesus, but the town itself is a lovely, relaxed, and friendly place and once again we felt like the only non Turkish tourists in town.
The trick to having this site to ourselves was actually setting an alarm clock (something we rarely do these days), arranging for a quick 7:30 am breakfast at our hotel, and being in a pre arranged taxi at 8:00. The taxi dropped us at the upper gate, and with our tickets already bought at the museum the day before, the Selçuk Pass, good at four sites and well worth the price, we waltzed right in to an empty experience. Empty for about an hour, then a few others started to arrive.
About two 1/2 hours later as we headed to the lower gate to walk the 3 km back into town, the cruise ship buses had started to arrive. Perfect timing.
Selçuk has a neighborhood charm we hadn’t experienced yet in Turkey, having only been to big cities before this stop. After returning from an outing earlier than expected, our innkeeper was out running an errand and not there to let us in. Seeing our plight, a neighbor quickly walked over with the innkeepers number already dialed on his cell phone to help us out.
We slept through it our first night, but on our second we heard the drummer who walks the town beating their drum to wake residents for their “sahur” meal, the first meal of the day eaten before observing the fast of Ramadan. And that night we saw dozens of tables set up in the street so neighbors could share iftar, the meal that breaks the fast.
The white storks are referred to as pilgrim birds in Turkey, and one man told us you can set your calendar for the date of their return in March each year. The 15th, he claimed. Always the 15th.
Our host dropped us off for a lovely walk around Şirince. Although its main street is mostly catering to day trippers, once you walk above town it’s rural rhythms quickly reveal themselves and a frequently running mini bus took us back to town.
On our last morning with one final site on our Selçuk museum pass, and an 11:45 am bus to catch, we walked up above our hotel to the Castle and the Basilica of St. John – a 6th century site which is the believed burial location of John the Apostle. Once again arriving early we had the site to ourselves – well, us and quite a few cats enjoying their breakfast, provided by one of the groundskeepers.
We considered staying longer in Selçuk, but the coast and swimming beckoned. After some holiday traffic induced bus stress, and some luck with a bus connection, we made it to Bodrum to enjoy the holiday ending Ramadan, the three-day Ramadan Bayram, also known as Eid al-Fitr. More on Bodrum in our next post.
We were ready for the cats of Istanbul, having watched the fantastic documentary from 2016, Kedi, about the cats and the peoples relationship to the many, many, many cats.
Did that stop me from being bowled over with enthusiasm for each and every cat I saw? No. I’m sure Rich got tired of hearing me announce ‘kitty’ every time I spied a cat. But he is a good sport. Even when I assured him that the cats won’t jump up on the chairs at the restaurant – right before a cat did just that to get access to his lap.
It warms my heart to see how so many people care for the cats, and stop to give a scratch behind the ears if possible, and how many little cat houses and bowls of cat food dot the urban landscape.
It wasn’t just cats that caught our attention over our five days in Istanbul. The tulip festival was also a delight to see.
There is much more to see and do in Istanbul than we managed to squeeze in, so I hope we’ll be back again sometime. The ten hour time change was tough – we hadn’t had a shift like that in quite a while and we both felt it pretty acutely. We were lucky to have a friend of a friend to meet up with, and made new friends thanks to a charming kitty at a charming restaurant. Hopefully Rich will time to write more about Istanbul, there were a lot things to appreciate from an urbanist transportation point of view.
It had been decades since we’ve visited Las Vegas. How long? Well, casinos were still using coins the last time we visited. And if the fact that the slot machines now print out paper receipts is news to you too – welcome to my shocked world.
We went to Vegas to visit with family who had a trip already planned. That’ll be fun we thought, to be there with people who know Vegas. And was it! I came away with so many insights about this desert vacation mecca. And, a renewed belief that you cannot judge a place you don’t know.
First realization: It’s a fairly egalitarian vacation destination. You can go high spending, fancy, big gambling budget, top dollar shows, or, as we saw many folks doing, lower budget,weekday, bring food to your room and walk around enjoying the sights. And, according to the gaming reports issued, fewer people are gambling. And more are bringing children with them. As we all know, a child with access to a swimming pool on vacation is a happy child.
Another shock, the walking experience along the strip is actually not bad. Of course it wasn’t hot yet, but the sidewalks are fine, there are pedestrian overpasses with escalators and stairs, and although the urbanist in me screams ‘change the light timing to reflect the real world person through put’ (many more humans on foot crossing the street than people in cars, yet the light is held green for the space hogging cars). There are very few places to stop, sit, and observe life which are not part of a paid experience, but there is quite a bit of outdoor plaza life. And for many, this may be the best walkable, social, planned urban area they get to enjoy.
Although I’m a white woman with no experience of what travel is like for people of color, to me, Vegas seemed like a good place to travel for anyone. The diversity of people, and shared sense of fun, of vacation enjoyment, was really very uplifting. Yes, it’s all wrapped around a gambling culture that wants to separate you from your money, but all seemed to be very welcome. The hospitality felt the same no matter who you were. And the people watching is fantastic. Folks are having fun and looking amazing while they do.
If you find travel interesting, you can find anyplace interesting. This trip was a good reminder to put aside preconceived notions and simply look around and enjoy. There really is no where like Las Vegas.
The best part of Vegas was our time with family, the best part of San Francisco was time with friends. And now we are off to our next adventure, Turkey. We fly to Istanbul tomorrow.
Most folks don’t think much about the asphalt of the streets and concrete of the sidewalks until it’s not asphalt and concrete, but huge blocks or small chunks of stone. When you look down and see the streets and sidewalks paved with stone, large or small pieces, you picture the process of putting the stones down in the streets. In Italy I was fascinated with the choice of paving materials. Who wouldn’t be? My fascination started in Venice and didn’t stop.
It wasn’t until we left Venice that I read about the use of lighter colored stones on the edge of the canals and bottoms of steps to alert pedestrians that they are about to step into a canal or tumble off stairs. When I went back to look through my photos, sure enough, there they were. Safety stones.
Dark Vesuvian lava blocks pave the older streets of Naples. I assumed the surface was natural, but apparently on some stretches, especially the stairways, the dings and impressions come from hammers and chisels to create a less slippery surface when wet.
How could anyone fail to notice the cobblestoned streets of Pompeii and Herculaneum? However, it would be easy to miss the small white stones placed in the joints as cats eyes, or reflectors.
After the dark paving stones of Naples the streets of Bari old town were a surprise. Of course people used the local stone, the ‘chianche’ ( the big paving stones) in Bari are mostly white or cream, with black pavers used, apparently, to help merchants unfamiliar with the old town find their way out.
We knew that metal utility covers were slippery, but I hadn’t appreciated how tricky they might be to integrate into paving stones until the town of Alberobello. While most visitors look up at the Trulli, make sure to also look down and admire the paving stones.
Rome. Rome. Rome. Where the stones you tread were trodden by Julius Caesar, and marched upon by Roman warriors and enslaved people who were the capital of the empire. Our time traveling in the UK, Morocco, and Italy gave us a good look at the extent of the Roman Empire, but I hadn’t visited Rome before.
Apparently, the small cobblestones of Rome’s roads, “sampietrini”, which means “little St. Peters,” are being replaced with asphalt on the main, busy roads. It will make for a quieter and smoother surface for bikes, scooters and trucks. But, the promise from at least one mayor is to move the paving stones to smaller more pedestrian scale streets. It would be fascinating to see the cost benefit analysis of stone versus asphalt. Wear and tear. Re-paving costs. Environmental considerations. Is my inner bureaucrat showing?
We’re in San Francisco now, catching up with friends and sharing our travel tales. Traveling the world is amazing, but being somewhere familiar, and where we have wonderful friends is rejuvenating.