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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When traveling long term, you strangely become both more tolerant of discomfort (especially when out of your control), and obsessed with small comforts. And sometime the smallest things can give you a feeling of satisfaction in an often disorienting lifestyle.
For example, our little down travel pillows always provide a modicum of comfort, even over the hardest “pillow” found in some lodging. Carrying our own salt, pepper, picnicware, and hot sauce brightens otherwise dull meals or take out on the road.
Another way to ease the stress of constant travel is to return to a place…maybe a few times. It’s always easier once you know the lay of the land, favorite neighborhoods, and how to get out of the train station in the right direction. In the past year we’ve been lucky enough to visit London and Paris multiple times, in completely different neighborhoods. Plus, you can venture deeper into new places, see obscure sights, and generally settle in with the more relaxed lens of a quasi-local.
As we left the Netherlands for the UK, the warnings of an impending heat wave across Northern Europe were growing, so we thought about where we could ride it out as we approached the next leg across of our planned 4 month summer European cycling, train, and boat tour.
Our primary goals in the UK were to see our friends in Wales, and connect to a ferry to Ireland, so we did not plan on too much cycling. The heat wave clinched the decision to settle in somewhere for a longer stay. So we looked back on places that we could (somewhat) easily get to with our bikes on trains…our train from the ferry landing in Harwich went to London, but London would be too hot(100+) and is $$$ in August, plus we wanted to get further west where it would be a bit cooler, and closer to a house sit we had scheduled in Gloucester.
So we decided on Bristol for a third visit, via a single train transfer in London. The only catch was one train came into Liverpool Station and the other departed from Paddington. But no problem on bikes, as the 10km ride across London on a Saturday morning was a pleasure due to all the new cycling infrastructure. London’s wide new paths, protected lanes and bike signals have made cycling a much more viable alternative in the Capital.
Bristol was also a good base for some day cycling trips and we could go back to our favorite falafel stand, noodle restaurant, and cat pub!
And yes, we could go back to the S.S. Brittanica and Brunel Museum…and for free! Ha, even the staff was impressed (and a bit surprised) when Cheryl pulled out our printed tickets from last year, which they sell at the relatively high price of £20 each, with the caveat that the tickets are good for a year.
Of course, most non-locals never make it back within the year…but these frugal Americans did! (Thanks to Cheryl -:) We enjoyed seeing more of the museum that we missed on the first visit due to school groups and also took another walk through the ship. This was a small satisfaction for these frequent travelers!
We spent one warm night in the top floor of a old school hotel in leafy Clifton (nicely near the Suspension bridge), but then strategically moved to an air conditioned room downtown for the peak days of the heat wave.
It WAS hot and the Hilton Garden Inn’s British AC system could barely keep up, especially when the sun bore down on our windows in the afternoon. Luckily we like this hotel due to its adjacency to a small park with nice mature trees that cooled it down a bit.
This heat wave set all-time records throughout the UK…43c/104f in a land not adapted in culture, architecture, or A/C systems to such heat. Southern England is now experiencing a drought along with about 50% of the rest of Western Europe. The adaptation to the climate change that seems to be happening is going to be difficult, expensive, and disruptive to life as we know it….and of course, we are the lucky ones that can afford to move and adapt, while other poorer and more impacted nations suffer unduly for greenhouse gases they contribute little to generating.
But let’s move on to happier topics, like house bunnies. We had a nice 70km cycle from Bristol to Stroud, a pleasant historic canal town on the edge of the Cotswolds. It was a little hectic getting out of Bristol as the cycle infrastructure is spotty and confusing to the first time user.
But the ride was generally pleasant, and Stroud made a good overnight stop, with the convenince of pub lodging….drinks, dinner, sleep, breakfast…check. We then rode back to the Gloucester Canal via the Stroud water, where we house sat for a nice young couple for the weekend, with primary duties looking after their two bunnies. The bunnies were super cute and lots of fun. Who knew rabbits had such personalities!? And Gloucester has an interesting revitalized docklands area and a spectacular cathedral.
So one of the surprises of our first cycle touring days in the UK was the fact that it wasn’t that bad! After spending the better part of last winter in the UK, we had not deemed the roads, drivers, or train system too hospitable to bikes and basically decided that we’d use our precious cycling time elsewhere where the cycling seems safer and offered more freedom to discover. However, a critical law enacted in February mandates passing clearances of 1.5-2m for cars, as well as improved cyclist and pedestrian rights at intersections and crossings. Way to go UK!
There is a also nascent national cycling network (with gaps), as well as local tourism loops and other marked routes in many cities and towns. But it’s hard to find online cycling maps and data, despite downloading and paying for the Ordiance Survey (OS Maps) App at the premium level. We had to piece together routing from Komoot, Google, and some of the National and local signage to find a good route. It should be easier.
And many of the A or B roads are still absolutely no go in my view. For example we crossed a few primary roads (A roads) that Google had routed us on, and spent a km or two on some, but quickly bailed or found an alternate route as they were just too high speed with no shoulders. Some have bike lanes that disappear or are just way too narrow for traffic speeds.
As we alway say, England is a pretty crowded place and car use has run rampant since the 1970s, without the concurrent development of connective cycling infrastructure. It’s a similar pattern to the USA; the cities have led the way, while the suburban and rural areas have been neglected or fallen through the planning/funding cracks. In the UK, the physical challenges of the narrow roads are also harder to overcome, whereas in the US it is often more a lack of political will.
On the quieter backroads though, the cycling can be very rewarding as the small scale and undulations of the historic road system is perfect for cycle touring. And millions of British cycle frequently and we saw many out there….but they are mostly in high vis vests and it feels like a bit of a road warrior mentality that is not going to get the other 98% of the population out on bikes.
The other huge positive was that almost all the drivers are respecting the new laws, so this did make it feel safer and more pleasant on many roads. However, heading up a steep narrow road with 5 cars stuck behind you waiting to pass safely is still not exactly the relaxing experience of a 5m wide Dutch cycleway. So we decided that we will try out a bit more of the National cycling network next time through the UK in September.
So we headed out of Gloucester by train to Carmarthen, Wales, where our kind friends picked us up in their van for the final leg to Tenby. It was great (as always) to see our friends and we still are so thankful for their kindness in providing us some grounding for our European travels. Cheryl has known them for almost 40 years, and we feel especially close as generations age and kids turn into young adults. But somehow, we stay the same age, right?
The swimming in Tenby was particularly pleasant in August and we enjoyed recuperating a bit before moving onto our next adventure; cycling and exploring Ireland, so we packed up our bikes and gear and our kind hosts shuttled us again to the Stena Line ferry in Fishguard, Wales for the 4 hour trip to Ireland. I’ve heard the Irish are pretty friendly too, but more on that next time.
This was our second time cycle touring in the Netherlands, our first was in 2017. This felt different because we were on a longer cycle trip, and we had just come from countries widely considered to be cycling heavens – Germany, Sweden, and Denmark.
We were quickly reminded of why the Netherlands is still the gold standard for cyclists around the world. We needed to run a few errands while in Groningen for two nights, and those errands took us out to big box store land (A big cycling store, of course.). It was a breeze, a joy, to cycle there on wonderful protected cycle tracks. Almost no stop signs and maybe one or two traffic signals. The traffic flow was controlled with yield symbols which allowed for such seamless cycling. It was so fun to note that people on bikes are separated from people driving cars by space in so many situations. Underpasses for bikes. Bridges for bikes. Wide wide lanes where we could ride two abreast and chat and other people on bikes could easily pass us. If you’ve ever tried to cycle to big box store territory in the US you will understand our delight.
But our ferry reservation to the UK from the Hook of Holland (Hoek Van Holland) beckoned. We needed to get on our bikes and enjoy the riding. Quite a bit of riding to make the ferry. We could have taken a train hop, but the riding was so nice. And it’s flat in the Netherlands we said, right?
Flat is nice, and easy in theory. And usually in reality. But with headwinds and crosswinds the flat kilometers start to hurt. 115 kilometers from Groningen to Zwolle, on loaded bikes, was a long day. I realized why I don’t have many photos from Zwolle. Too tired. And it was pretty warm weather so that takes it out of you too. Flat kilometers mean you stay in the same riding position a lot, and don’t get the hill climbing up and coasting down break for your legs. And as Rich’s cycling buddies is SF will attest, he is much happier on hills!
When you get to your destination, you check in to the hotel, shower, and then head back out to get dinner. With a tight time line this was a one night stop, so the walk to and from dinner is your chance to sightsee in town.
Up at 7:00, hotel breakfast, pack up, and back on the bikes! Next stop, Amersfoort, 92 kilometers away. It’s not fair to say we don’t get a chance to sightsee since we are sightseeing all day as we ride. And riding from town to town lets you appreciate what distances felt like pre automobile. You understand how separated places were in the days when walking, horse drawn conveyances, and canal boats ruled the landscape.
Amersfoort was a logical place to stop for a night. It’s unlikely I could have gone much further in a day. It’s also a beautiful place to stop. There is a lot to be said for intensive travel planning, but the surprise of not knowing much about where you’re stopping, and finding it to be so beautiful, is like an unexpected gift. Instead of looking for the city you saw depicted in your research, you have a surprise around every turn.
Up again, breakfast again, on the bikes again. Today would take us through Utrecht and on to The Hague. Only 82 kilometers. In most countries the idea of riding through a major city and out the other side would be daunting. But this is the Netherlands.
Although we only slept one night in The Hague, our ferry didn’t start boarding until 7pm for a 10pm departure. So we had a full day for a museum visit and buying replacement panniers for me, my old ones having failed and no chance of getting them repaired before we left town. I left them at a bike shop who said they would repair and put them to good use and we pulled out of town around 4pm to ride the 28 kilometers to the ferry terminal. A good travel tip for transition days is to stay at a nice hotel, if you can. The staff at the Mövenpick Hotel were super helpful and we left our bikes and bags after checkout, visited the Mauritshuis Museum, and then picked up just the bikes and set out to get a new set of Ortlieb panniers for me. Back to the hotel, unpack and pack panniers, drop off old panniers and head out to the ferry.
Watch for an all ferry post in the future, we have three more bike/ferry trips planned – it’s not only how we avoid flying, but also so much easier with bicycles. And for parents with small children it appears. Load the car with kids and your gear and then have fun on the ship while you cross to the UK.
This concludes our self imposed race across the Netherlands. We’re glad we didn’t miss a single kilometer of this over 300km ride in cycling nirvana.
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.
This is the country where we are most likely to overeat, over indulge, and find ourselves over padded as a result.
How to avoid this? Move. Just keep moving. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Have a hiking day. Walk the long way home after dinner out. Walking and biking are second nature to us, so that’s what we do when we get somewhere.
If we have a train day, we make sure to have an active day next. Of course, some train days involve loads of walking too. We rarely take taxis, we walk to and from train stations or take a local bus. Being sensitive to the impact of car traffic on cities encourages us not to add to it. Walking gives you more time to notice things and grounds you geographically. I’m slightly directionally challenged, landmarks are how I navigate. That shop, this fountain, a row of green flower pots, all help me find my way though new places.
The Amalfi coast has so many trails, walkways and tiny roads to explore. And stairways. So many stairways. Our day hiking above Amalfi was one of the most memorable hikes we’ve done. The coast road is more famous, but the paths and small roads are what we love.
Are all of our hikes blissful and conflict free? No. We have very different paces and one of us, the tall one, hikes much faster than the other shorter one. In an attempt to get more of a work out Rich came bounding back down the first big staircase climb out of Amalfi as I was struggling up. Morale killer? Yes. Squabble? Yes. I demanded that he turn around and then after I passed him I insisted he go back down as far as he wanted as I hiked on – in the lead for once! Temporarily, but happily.
The weather cooperated for our first full day in Bari so we rented bikes and headed down the coast, knowing there was a train to take back and enjoying the tailwind.
So this is how we stay healthy and happy. But, six months in we have learned that Rich absolutely needs more exercise than me. He’ll be upgrading to a slightly larger travel backpack so he can add running shoes to his kit. And I’ll be better at not getting mad when he bounds back down a hill I’m still climbing so he can turn around and go up again. (Seriously, who does this?)