Shifting Gears in Saxony

Happy June everyone and hope that you are are enjoying the summer so far. Getting out on the bikes has been nice, but we’ve hit a few bumps in the road along the way, and rambling without a detailed plan in the beginning of peak European travel season is a bit more challenging.

On the Elbe river valley north of Dresden

So we’ve been mixing up some regional train hops and full cycling days to make our way out of the state of Hessen, across Thuringia, and well into Saxony. The scenery has been beautiful in late Spring with full greenery and loads of wildflowers.

Relaxing in he Schlossgarten in Fulda. June in Europe is so green to these California eyes.

We’ve managed to learn a lot more about the local history via some great museums and historic sites. It’s an area steeped in history from the early Middle Ages to the tumultuous 20th century of 2 wars, partition, and reunification. The Forum museum in Leipzig is highly recommended as it’s an extremely well curated and interactive history of the GDR.

The former interior border at Gerstungen. Amazingly, six days later, a connector strip had been paved. A shocking change for the residents and the world.

As much as we thought that we knew the basic history of the former Eastern Block, this museum will add to your understanding, and you can’t help put it in the current context agression in Ukraine, as well as a lot of the variances in prosperity that still divide the former East and West.

Inside Wartburg Castle, where Martin Luther famously translated the Bible as part of the Protestant reformation in 1520.
The great hall in Wartburg Castle, a fascinating mix of 15th century construction, with more ornate 18th and 19th century “renovations”

The biggest challenge of the past week has been that Cheryl has been less than 100% due to a nasty stomach bug, which hit her hard for a few days, with a slow recovery. Cycle touring and stomach bugs are not the best combination, so we’ve had to scale back our cycling distances and incorporate a bit more rest and recovery into our agenda. It was kind of rough for a few days. But she stayed in the tour and carried on.

A needed break on the old Hessen rail trail east of Frankfurt

Luckily, the train system has helped to shorten some days and get us on to places of more interest, such as Leipzig, and now Dresden, both vibrant and interesting cities. But Cheryl is a trooper, and despite running on fumes, continued to cycle most days, with my challenge being to make sure the day was not too tough or long! She’s on the mend now and we anticipate heading out of Dresden tomorrow with more oomph in our pedaling!

Cheryl reflecting sunset over the Elbe in Dresden. Both Leipzig and Dresden have extensive tram systems approaching 100 miles in length. Low boarding, fast, and free with our €9 monthly train ticket!

On the mechanical front, I started to notice as we left Bad Hersfeld that my back tire seemed to be rubbing the fender more and more. It turns out that my long lasting Schwalbe Tire had a bulge developing in one spot….definitely time for a new tire! Luckily we made it to Fulda, which had a half dozen bike shops listed, so I engaged on the hunt for a new tire.

Did we mention how friendly the ducks are?

The first place in town had a single lovely Schwalble Marathon 700×38 tire. These hand finished German tires are the clear global favorites in the bike touring and commuting community. Unfortunately, with my tight fender and frame, this tire was one size too big and they had no other similar tires. The next shop on the edge of town had no Schwable touring tires, but was able to sell me a right sized 700×35 Matrix touring tire. I’d never heard of the brand, but his shop was full of their parts. As it turns out, these Thailand made parts are some of the most available. I figured I better take it.

The glamorous life of cycle touring in Eisenach

Since he spoke English, I was able to get an informative update on the global supply chain issues still facing the bicycling industry. I asked him about bike parts for a full group replacement on my touring bike, as all my well loved Ultegra parts are close to failing. (Hang in there right shifter!). He said that parts are still on short supply and that it may be cheaper or more plausible just to buy a new touring bike! Zoinkees.

The cherries are delicious, and especially when you’re a bit taller than most pickers!
Foraging is a nice option as summer fruits ripen

He said that e-bikes, mountain bikes, and kids bikes are now more available, but that touring/hybrid/road bikes are still hard to get. He also noted that aluminum supplies have been disrupted from Ukraine war, so frame and part manufactures may have more issues! The last few years have really opened up the worlds eyes to the fragility of global supply chains, and the relative bounty we all had in the past 30 years of massive global expansion.

You must be this tall to fight in medieval war

So I put on the new €20 touring tire and hope it holds up for even half the life of my trusty Schwable. So far so good.

Disobey this divine don’t walk signal in Fulda at your peril!

But where to next? We are still discussing some options as are now eager to get further north to the Baltic Coast and cross to Sweden. We love Germany, but it does have many quirks, and we can tell that we may have had our fill for now of small town Germany (And even brats, schnitzel, and potatoes… hence our pull to the vibrant cities for Vietnamese food and burritos!).

Cheryl captured in the burning lens ca. 1728, at the fantastic Zwinger scientific and astronomical collection in Dresden

The city and town connections via cycle routes are wonderful here, and it’s safe, pleasant, clean. The bigger cities, such as Leipzig and Dresden are diverse, fantastic to explore, and have very low automobile traffic. (So quiet in most central neighborhoods!). But there is indeed (a somewhat stereotypical) rigidity and other quirks to life here that can make make cycle touring more challenging. Like what, you ask?

Mostly so pleasant to cycle tour in Germany and a million miles of paths to explore.

No public drinking fountains…anywhere! Not along cycle routes, not in parks, not even outside bathrooms….and by the way, public bathrooms are also EXTREMELY rare. Museums or restaurants are your best bets. So if you can’t pee al fresco, frequently without hesitation, then cycle touring here is not for you. The only solution to the lack of water fountains is to buy water (which we only do as last resort) or bring a lot of water for the day (which we do).

A rare sight in Alaunpark, Dresden

And what is rarer than a public bathroom in Germany? A convenience store. They are not part of the culture, even in cities. They are everywhere in Denmark and Sweden, with fresh foods, and takeaway options….perfect for cycle touring.

A near riot prior to 6pm Aldi closing. It was the only open supermarket in central Dresden over Whit Monday holiday weekend.
There may not be convenience stores anywhere, but there are so many bakeries!

But we have found that below the sometimes abrupt exterior of some Germans, there is a deep care the environment and the plight of others. We saw the heartwarming handling of the 2015 Syrian refuge crisis in Munich, and again have witnessed the real welcome signs for Ukrainians on 2022. And they don’t brag about it, they just do it.

Welcome signs everywhere; and housing, food, and other refugee support.

So we head north this Friday morning by train, feeling our privilege to be healthy and free.

The intrepid travelers carry on…outside Wartburg Castle, Eisenach.

Last tourists out of Morocco, please report to the airport.

A very empty Marrakech airport. It is a beautiful airport.

How quiet was the Marrakech airport on December 12th, 2021? Birds. We could hear the chirping of little birds who had snuck into the terminal. We heard and saw them in the uncrowded check in hall, in the line-less security area, and out at the empty gates. They were flying around, perching on ductwork and light fixtures, and scouring the area for crumbs. With so few travelers they weren’t having much luck finding food. Flights had been curtailed for two weeks already, and the Kingdom had just announced an additional travel ban through the end of December.

Two days before, up in the Atlas Mountains. Still thinking our Dec. 14th flight would be flying.

A few days earlier we had rented a car in Marrakech after arriving via bus from Essaouira to spend two nights up in Inmil. We wanted to see the splendor of the Atlas Mountains. While out hiking on our first chilly morning in the mountains we got an e-mail from the US State Department telling Americans still in Morocco to leave or risk being stuck. Almost immediately on the heels of that email came one canceling our December 14th flight. Uh oh.

The travel planner springs into action. Out of the photo is the cell phone tower which made this quick action possible.

Rich got a flight booked after a tense bit of time with all operating airlines websites failing to work, and flights already booking up. Relieved, but not completely comfortable, we quickly hightailed it back to our Riad to pack and get back on the road. We needed to get a COVID test that day or early the next morning in order to be able to fly to Paris.

One last fun interaction with these young girls coming home from school who were thrilled to practice their French with us.

Our division of driving labor is Rich driving and me navigating. We made it down from the mountains and through Marrakech to the COVID test center with only one bobble. A slightly tricky trip down a crowded market street to get back on the main road on the correct side of the lab to park the car. That doesn’t sound as stressful as it was, with Rich having to thread the rental car between scooters, vendor carts, and pedestrians. We returned the rental car and Rich booked us in to the thankfully nearby Raddison Hotel. If ever there was a time to check into a comfort hotel this was it.

Waiting for our room while relaxing by the pool.

Oh yes, I failed to mention I was on the rocky road of food poisoning, with the worst yet to come. The distraction of scrambling to divert plans kept me propped up until the next day when I succumbed and took to bed.

Jardin Majorelle-Yves Saint Laurent Mansion. My only outing in Marrakech.
After this photo Rich put me in a taxi back to the hotel and headed out solo.
Jemaa el-Fnaa square. Normally packed with visitors, very quiet as viewed by Rich during his second breakfast.
Bahia Palace also eerily empty.

Once again we could feel the sense of despair from all the hospitality workers, knowing that no more visitors were able to come to Morocco. The taxi driver to the airport failed to turn the meter on and we didn’t even bother to protest or haggle, just paid, tipped, and wished him well. We were likely his last tourists for some time.

A few days short of our planned four weeks, but thanks to Rich’s amazing planning skills we saw a lot of Morocco.

While waiting in line at the airport to check in and check bags we struck up a conversation with a lovely mother son traveling duo who had come to Marrakech to spend three months and were also heading out early due to the shut down. We had managed to complete almost our entire hoped for itinerary, so we left with no regrets – except my food poisoning. They were headed to Bangkok via Paris and Amsterdam and had a 14 day quarantine to look forward to in Bangkok.

On the way to security screening. No crowd. Me keeping it together for travel day. Just.
Marrakesh Menara Airport’s gorgeous ceiling. In 2019 it handled over 6.3 million visitors.

And here we are in Paris. Another one of those culture shock travel days completed. Doing COVID testing and entry paperwork for each leg of our trip back to the UK adds another level of frustration to travel in the age of COVID. Rich keeps track of the ever changing regulations and makes sure we have printed copies for airport days. I’m sure the challenge of the paperwork and the cost of the testing is putting a lot folks off travel. We took a deep breath in Paris and enjoyed the Christmas feel I was missing in Morocco, before we dove back into on-line forms and registration of tests to get to the UK. Next stop, London and then Edinburgh.

The happy travelers in Paris, on to the next chocolate shop!

Stay safe , and Happy Holidays all.

Reflections on the City of Light

We finally ditched our beloved bikes and rolled into Paris in style on the TGV from Annecy. Since we travelled on a weekend, my €49/year discount SNCF Carte Adulte offered first class for just a few Euro more than second, so first class it was with nice facing “Club Duo”. “Good train time per $!” as my friend Mike would say.

Upper deck of the TGV. Comfy (me) and stylish (the train)

Carrying our gear on our backs was quite a shock and we have both vowed again to rid our bags of even more things before we move onto to any travels further afield. Seriously!

French chocolates on the TGV

We chose to stay in the 10th Arrondissement, and were pleased with the choice as it spans a clear transitional world between the more traditional Parisienne neighborhoods such as the Marais to the more working class and immigrant neighborhoods. It is a fascinating mix of cultures, but clearly dealing with strong gentrification pressure. There is a palpable delineation between the older neighborhood residents and the new boho hipsters. The similar global urban story of businesses transitioning to serve the new residents, and the older residents being priced out. And maybe we are adding to the problem, or are we just supporting a variety of small businesses?

The backstreets of the 10th on a Sunday afternoon
Rue de Belleville on a warm fall evening

The neighborhood is also blessed with the lovely Canal Saint Martin, which is even more pleasant now that ped/bike priority streets have been added on both sides, and reminded us of the Panhandle in San Francisco. (with water and locks of course)

Canal Saint Martin

We explored Paris every day to a blissful exhaustion, but found rush hour walking tough, both on the busy boulevards and back streets, as sidewalks are single-file only with the usual urban bobbing and weaving. We also took a few trips on Lime e-bikes, and some of the new bike facilities are fantastic! But wayfinding and the intersections tough for first time Paris cyclists. Cyclists are everywhere and go in every direction, but are mostly looking and have tamed cars with their unpredictability and sheer quantity. We like that.

Lots of mobility options in Paris

By the way, as of November 2019, Velib does not accept US or Canadian credit cards, even with chips, chip and PIN, and card authorization through your cc company. Big bummer, as we tried numerous times ways and were thwarted. Apparently too much fraud??!

Morning on the Pont des Arts

We did hit a few of the major tourist spots, such as the Louvre and Sacre-Couer, but found exploring the edges of Montmartre more satisfying then the throngs by the famous stairs.

Tomb of Oscar Wilde, Père Lachaise Cemetery

I am still amazed how the A-list sites are absolutely inundated, yet one turn up a quiet side street can reveal hidden wonders and always find that in big cities, we prefer random neighborhood wandering, small museums and parks.

Our favorite bar in Montmartre which was delightfully out of central casting for 90s indie film!

France and the people we have met have been so kind to us, both on and off the bikes, and we are starting to feel a little more kinship and understanding with their perspective on living life, history, geography and the struggles to maintain liberté in the 2020s.

Au revoir et bon voyage!

Farewell chateaux.

Amboise in the setting sun. Golden light.

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

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

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

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

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

A morning ride though the vineyards.

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

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

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

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

Loire Valley continues. Now with more head cold.

Morning in Châteauneuf-sur-Loire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A slightly abandoned air about this one.

Happy pedaling!

Alsace wine trail during harvest.

The Route Des Vins.

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

Through the vineyards on smooth pavement.

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

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

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

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

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

A typical town with German and French influences.

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

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

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

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

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

Down the Loire Valley by bike and train.

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

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

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

Low floor boarding. A fan favorite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Across a river and back to France.

Lovely canal views.

We stayed two nights in Strasbourg and celebrated being back in France by having Sri Lankan food one night, and Syrian food the second night. One of the things we miss about SF is eating around the world in a single week, so when we’re in a larger city we take advantage and find some different restaurants.

Pink and orange reflected in the canal.
Adorable gargoyle on the famous cathedral.
A common sign turned into a love letter for Strasbourg.

Today we head out on the Eurovelo 5, to the Alsatian wine route. Goal is the Atlantic Ocean (with a train hop in there!) But let me repeat- wine route!

Happy cyclists.

Rain is expected today so the rain gear we’ve been carrying for five weeks may finally get an outing.

Happy pedaling!