Taipei 101 – An Introduction

I love the rush and excitement of flying into a new place. And since we transferred through Tokyo on ANA, we flew into the closer Songshan city airport (TSA) and had a window seat on a long double loop around the dramatic hills and skyscrapers of Taipei….a free aerial tour of the city where we would spend our next week!

Lunar New Year Bunny Seats on the 89th Floor of Taipei 101
Lost? You can almost always spy Taipei 101 wherever you are.

Note that most longer flights go out of the much larger and more distant Taoyuan International Airport (TPE). But both have good rail connections right to the center, so no worries if you fly into or out of TPE.

Waterfalls, mountains, and forest

Taipei is a world class city that just doesn’t rise to the top of most (western) tourists lists. But we think the Portuguese nailed it with the name “Formosa”, as it is a beautiful, prosperous, and free place.

Local Agriculture in the Pingxi District

It’s certainly a place that is receiving more attention in the global news due to the complex geo-politics associated with its status and ultra strategic location in the South China Sea. We enjoyed learning so much more about the history of Taiwan. It has left a unique legacy on the psyche of the country.

Ximen, The walkable downtown of Taipei

After the Qing Dynasty lost the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, they ceded Taiwan and the Japanese colonized and controlled Taiwan for over 50 years. When their occupation finally ended after World War II. a dictatorship initially led by Chiang Kai-Shek ruled for the next 40 years under the KMT party, with strict repression of free speech, detentions, and killings known as the “White Terror”.

Getting dizzy in Taipei 101
The massive damper on the 88th floor of Taipei 101 has a series of cute damper babies…this one was my favorite. Way to make science cute.

By the late 80’s, a slow transition to a more open and democratic Taiwan started, and after the election of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2016, it has solidified its place as a liberal and forward looking democracy.

The Pingxi train and Shifen suspension bridge

They were the first Asian state to legalize gay marriage in 2019 and have 42%+ representation of women in the parliament as well as a female president. The Scandinavia of Asia?! Almost, but there is still a huge gender wage gap and other legacy issues of a male dominated business world.

Bali and Tamsui are easily reachable by MRT and ferry for seaside strolling or cycling

However, we could feel the positive energy and openness in Taipei, although all within a society that still values social stability and conformity. It’s an interesting mix but definitely a positive one to experience, even as an outsider.

Run Up to the Lunar New Year on Dihua Street
Cutest local fire station ever, Tamsui

Here’s the Top 10 reasons we loved our week in Taipei and why you might too:

1. The Food – you can see Cheryl’s last two posts for lots of details on the food scene…great food everywhere, and the amazing and exciting night markets.

Ready for the year of the rabbit
Food and SO many boba tea shops…Taiwan invented it and continues to reinvent it for the rest of the world.

2. Unique culture – fun and quirky with a rich history influenced by indigenous, Han Chinese, Japanese, and western culture. There is also a strong fascination with Korean pop culture and clothing. It’s not quite like anywhere else, it’s Taiwan.

Cute = Taiwan
Check in option at Tinguan Airport…no takers?
Cat/bartender at the Tipsy Dragon in Songshan

3. Efficiency AND Kindness – This is a neat and orderly city…people follow the rules and you will enjoy yourself more if you do too. Or at least make an effort. It’s an easy, extremely collaborative society, and everyone has built in empathy and spacial radar systems. You’ll never bump into someone or have them cut or push too much, even in crowds…it’s infectious and relaxing once you embrace the system.

Graceful and spacious MRT stations, many outside the core are aerial with quiet platforms, views, and pleasant breezes. No center running freeway noise here.
Stand right, walk left…always!

4. The MRT! – a comprehensive and modern system that carries 2 Million passengers a day. Buy a EasyCard (IC Card) at either airport station for 100 NTD (New Taiwanese $, or about $3 US), load some fare and then tap in and out like the locals for 50c to $1 a trip. We had the airport station agent add 300 to each to start, so paid 800 NTD. If you get a funny beep or issue with your card, there is always a helpful staff person nearby.

The MRT is integrated with neighborhoods, creating nice station area plazas such as this one in Shilin
Neighborhood pride in Shilin

There are also real time predictions at all MRT and most bus stops, so don’t be intimidated to use buses as well. Big numbers on the front…tap on and off with your IC card when you ride at the front or back doors. So easy.

Keeping an eye on train operations in Jintong

5. Bathrooms – Seriously, Taiwan is the most bathroomed place on the planet (interested to hear about others!?). Every station has one (or two), public parks, museums, attractions, malls, night markets, parking garages, busy neighborhoods….you get the idea. And all free and clean, which really does reduce travel stress and the need to go into “camel mode” walking about like in some counties.

Fun, inviting, and yes, bathrooms in Pinxi District
Always so close

6. Greenery – Parks, long greenways (140km of bike paths!), and lush hills and mountains make for a pleasant backdrop, plus potted street plants liven up even the drabbest streets.

Street plants seem to be a craze in Taipei and make the vast downtown neighborhoods a bit more livable
Ahead of the curve…the cool interchangeable scooter batteries of the Gogoro energy system
Alley greenery (and the ubiquitous Food Panda!)

7. Clean air – not perfect but good for such a large city due to great public transit, fairly clean vehicles, frequent coastal and island breezes, and the greenery noted above.

Spiritual moss on Jiantan Mountain
Building around tree or tree within building?

8. Safety – Traffic is pretty organized and street crime seems virtually non existent. One of our only social gaffs was inadvertently moving a women’s notepad/binder/IPad? from a back garden of a coffee shop…we thought it belonged to the shop, and she came out surprised to see us in her seat…we offered to move, but she refused and headed to another spot upstairs. Oops.

Pocket temple in Tamsui
More fun at the Onsen Museum in the hot spring town of Beitou…via MRT of course.
The historic Pingxi Train line runs 13km from Sandiaoling to Jintong runs hourly, so you can hop off and on or walk between stations.

9. Hiking and cycling culture – a great proportion of the world’s quality bicycles are made here (not to mention 90% of the worlds fast semiconductors), and they actually push cycle touring as a key component of their tourist advertising. On this first “winter” visit, we only grazed the endless mountain and forest trails that crisscross the spine of Taiwan… with many accessible by public transit.

Morning walk up Jiantin Mountain
You can walk from the edges of the city far into the mountains and take a train or bus back.
E-bikes for Spaniels…so green

10. Mixing with the locals – not many western tourists makes for a more exotic feel. And at least some English in most places makes interactions more rewarding. We’ve discovered this cool Asian capital, right-:)

Cheryl drying out one of the many cats of Houtong Cat Village
Cats keeping an eye out on the purpose built cat bridge in Houtong
Cat food on the cat bridge

Maybe you’ve been here and are nodding along, but if not, consider at least a stopover in Taipei on your next travels to Asia, or better yet, spend a few weeks or a month traveling around the whole island. Rail circles the island and the more developed west coast has a high speed rail network that takes you all the way south in about 2 hours.

So much to explore outside of Taipei…Shifen village between trains.
We only dabbled on the local trains, but there is a whole island to explore!

The more you learn about the people, history and culture, the more you will understand the how complex the geo-political conundrum really is. Our hope is strong for a positive future for Taiwan and we definitely plan to come back soon to explore by bicycle.

🐇🎉Happy Year of the Rabbit! 🎉🐰

Peace to all and happy travels!

Taipei food love affair.

I’ve run out of superlatives to describe the food in Taipei, but I haven’t run out of food photos.

Waiting patiently at the Shilin Night Market for more soup dumplings.
Rich with an oyster omelette. Shilin Night Market.
Oh yes, the appetizer on our way into the market – Taiwanese Sausage on a ‘bun’ of sticky rice. The sausage is slightly sweet and the sticky rice so chewy- lots of Q. Delicious
This market was mostly moved underground. It’s a different feel to the stalls on the street – which also still remain – but there is seating which is nice.
On a day trip by train to the mountains, here I am in Pingxi, continuing my quest to eat all the soup dumplings.
Rich and his quest to eat all the beef noodle soup.

Ningxia Night Market was our next food stop after a day out of town. The amazing travel planner booked us into a hotel right across the street from an MRT station so it’s easy to get to downtown and the amazing night markets.

First stop, stall 91 for Liu Yu Zi’s deep-fried homemade taro balls that have crispy casing and chewy inside filled with pork floss and egg york.
The chef is using a spring scoop to make the balls of uniform size.
We only got two. The flavors were so unique and absolutely delicious.
Next stop. Squid!
As you can see, there is a bit of English on the stall signs, but Google translate camera comes in very handy.
The Chef chopping up the squid.
A bowl of squid. Pickled onions on top, we think.
The fun of the night markets is just strolling along and buying whatever catches your fancy.
This is a sorghum sausage inside a crepe with scrambled egg cooked onto the crepe. Another absolutely unique and delicious treat.
The close up. Yes, food photography is not easy. But perhaps this gives you an idea of what it was like. I like the background captures of night market life.
And to finish our evening, a peanut ice cream roll.
A crepe, shaved peanut candy, like peanut brittle, two scoops of taro ice cream, and a sprinkling of cilantro.
Rolled up like a burrito and delicious.

This city. Being presented with all new flavor profiles. And in a fairly easy to access way. Even speaking no Chinese we get fed thanks to the kindness of people and multicultural nature of Taipei.

Individual hot pots for lunch one day, with a side of the famous stinky tofu on the right. The smell is stronger than the taste. Glad we tried it but I won’t seek it out again.
For our final lunch we went to a small Japanese restaurant for curry. Rich got pork.
And I had fried chicken. This was a small place, the two chefs you see are the complete staff. They ran an organized and tasty place.

For our final night we went back to the Raohe night market. We both wanted the pepper buns again, and I went in saying, right – done with taking photos. But as soon as we had something new and amazing I was back at it! And again, in good company. There were plenty of other people, locals and visitors, snapping pictures and rhapsodizing about the food. Not many western/non Asian visitors here. Taipei seems to be a slightly ignored Asian city by the western world travelers.

Cabbage and tofu. Both from the small cart over Rich’s shoulder. Both delicious. Each plate $2.00. The market on a Tuesday night was much less crowded than Saturday. We could look around and find places to sit.

I had noticed a stand on our first visit selling pineapple buns filled with ice cream. We didn’t make it back to the stall the first night- I had reached my crowd limit – but on our second visit we made sure to leave time and room in our tummies. There is no pineapple involved in this bun, it’s a soft fluffy milk bun with a cookie like crumbly topping reminiscent of Dutch crunch rolls we get in SF. The top is cut to look like a pineapple.

Fire Ice Pineapple was the Google translation. Note that you can get cheese, butter, cheese and butter, or one of a few flavors of ice cream in your bun.
I decided on vanilla ice cream.
Rich got mango.
Both were delicious. I don’t think of desserts when craving Asian cooking, but from now on I will associate Taiwan with some pretty unique and delicious desserts. And not too sweet, which is nice.

With our bellies happy, and with a new love for this amazing City and its lovely residents, we move on. Rich is working on a post all about everything not food related that we did – and honest, we did more than eat!

The Happy Travelers enjoying the city of Taipei.

And One Month Later….

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been back in the US for almost two months, and apologies for the month gap in our blog, a record for sure.

Back in San Francisco and enjoying the amazing new Tunnel Tops Park in the Presidio; love the movable furniture!

We’ve been having too much fun seeing friends and family in Palm Springs, Moorpark and more recently, visiting our favorite SF haunts and enjoying the beautiful Northern California winter. Not to mention bingeing on all the World Cup. Felicitaciones Argentina!

View across Tunnel Tops. Always something new and wonderful in the Bay Area
A new bike path extension to the Golden Gate
A short but always inspiring meet up with our fellow nomad DNT.

But as other nomads have related, retuning “home” is sometimes a bit tough, and strangely disorienting, especially when you know that you’re heading back out into the world again as nomads. It now feels more like a refueling stop, with the primary energy being friends (and tacos!) Nomadic life is endlessly stimulating, but without a base of friends and family to pivot off of, it might seem less invigorating. Contrast in life keeps it fresh.

San Francisco welcomed us with a beautiful sunset…you’re not making this easy SF.
Back riding with the boys on Twin Peaks…so missed this!
Ramen and Udon fix at Marugame in SF.

We’ve also been reunited with some of our “stuff” in a local storage unit. It’s always exciting to roll up the storage unit door and see what is there. Luckily, most clothes to swap out for our visit and onward travels are near the front. It does beg the question of saving so many things, but we know that when we settle down again somewhere, we’ll enjoy seeing so many familiar things again in a permanent setting. Right?

Champion and I excited about a walk!
Mission Creek Preserve in Desert Hot Springs
Walking the dogs in the vast landscape of the California mountain deserts
Happy hour smiles in Southern California
Cheryl and Boba “the cutest and friendliest kitten in the world!”.
Thousand Oaks delivered peaceful scenery, oaks and even water during a late fall hike in Wildwood Park

But after 16 months of travel, we are now a bit awestruck by how streamlined our travel lives are compared to the complexities of typical American life. No home, no car, a few bills…a bag or two and sometimes bicycles. Life is a trade off, and many of our peers could choose to simplify and travel more, but for many, selling it all and going mobile may be just a bit too much.

Christmas and Victorians were made for each other! Hayes Street, SF
Selfie during a run up Twin Peaks…and yes, I’m that guy without Bluetooth earbuds…too easy to lose traveling!

It was not an easy decision for us either. And for many, simply renting your place out is an option, so you can return to your previous life with less of the uncertainties that selling creates. Of course, having no dependent kids or pets helps, and we recognize that this window in our lives to travel may be unique and precious.

Catching up over coffee with our friend, and our ace SF real estate agent Lisa from Polaris
Garlic noodles at Perilla in the Inner Sunset – Check!
San Francisco fire stations have an annual Christmas light competition…it was on in Portola/West Portal.
Being home means baking with friends in Oakland

Home is nice, and the longevity of friends and place gives you a unique perspective on the passage of time. So we especially appreciate the generosity of our friends sharing their homes (or dinner) with us as we return for these recharge sessions. Thank you to all for your generosity and please know we will try to repay someday when we again have some roots in the ground. (Especially Rich and Andi -:)

Hiking up Montara Mountain…the drama of the Bay Area landscape is striking after travels.
The San Mateo Coast south of San Francisco offers endless beauty and secret beaches.
More hiking with good friends in Redwood City

We’ve now just arrived to an usually cold and snowy Seattle after a somewhat leisurely 3 day drive from the Bay Area, catching up with good friends and family along the way. We have two house sits (x2 cats each). Hopefully now away from most of our friends and family I’ll be able to get back to the important tasks of global travel planing for 2023. But the Pacific Northwest is so intriguing….so many places to explore; hmmm?

Cats eye view in North Seattle

But today the streets are still coated in snow and ice, so we’ll wait for the forthcoming thaw and settle into the coziness of our temporary cats, and sip coffee and tea as we look out into the evergreen and snow landscape. More on our Pacific Northwest winter excursion soon, as well as our scenarios for 2023 travel. Still no “plans” -:)

Happy travelers back in Buena Vista Park

Happy Holidays and safe travels to all!

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.

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Details of route and sights to see.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The happy travelers walking the Clara Bog boardwalk.

The Ups and Downs of Southwest Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How is Ireland for cycling? Fantastic!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UK Heatwave! Bikeways, Bunnies, and Bristol

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

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

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

Wait, we’ve seen this cat pub before!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On deck at the SS Great Britain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heading to Stroud

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

Bunny dinner time in Gloucester

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

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

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

On the Gloucester Canal

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

Better signage along the recently restored Stroudwater Canal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My favorite traveling companion enjoying the views leaving Wales

Happy travels!