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.

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.

Bornholm Island by bicycle. Danish paradise?

The rocky east coast was beautiful day and night.

Bornholm Island was recommended by a friend as a lovely place to bike. So, on the ferry from Sassnitz, Germany to Ystad, Sweden we quickly made the decision to catch the Bornholm Island ferry from Ystad. We are very glad we made such a quick decision. That’s the joy of traveling the way we are, not much in the way of set plans, frequently making lodging reservations the day of. Sure, sometimes it bites us in the rear, but it also lets us be very flexible.

The island is 588.36 square kilometres (227.17 sq mi), so 3 days of cycling, staying 2 nights, was sufficient.

Rich made the smart decision to cycle counter clockwise so we would be on the sea side of the roadways and cycle tracks. We felt sorry for the folks driving their cars and camper-vans as we easily pulled over to admire views, and went off the cycle tracks to the footpaths to find quiet picnic spots. The cars and vans had to wait for a pull out which was not always in the best view spot.

Another gorgeous picnic spot of the world. And more amazing Danish pastries.

Yes, there was wind. This is an island in the Baltic Sea, and you know when you circle an island you will have tailwinds and headwinds, but the lovely views will help distract you when it’s a headwind.

The beautiful old post windmill will also help you understand the importance of wind power.
A post windmill is the earliest type of European windmill. The entire body of the mill turns around a single vertical post to face the wind. Later windmills had only a top that turned into the wind.
Our first night near Nexø. The calm coast was mesmerizing. The sand was like fine sugar.
The white chimneys are old herring smokers.
The cycling varies from separated pavement, separated dirt, and on road.
On the sea side, sightseeing is great by bike.

We headed to Allinge for our second night. A chat with two Danish ladies let us know that the annual People’s Meeting “Folkemødet” was starting the next day. Ah ha, said Rich, that’s why lodging was so booked up. Thankfully, the room Rich found was at a lovely hotel, the old travel hack of the least expensive room at a place with great amenities paid off again.

The Allinge Badehotel. After a good day riding those chairs were a big hit.
Bornholm Island is known for its talented ceramicists, whose work was on display at the delicious breakfast. We’d started the day with a brief swim in the very brisk sea.

Riding the island felt as if a postcard view was presented at every turn. Windmills, cottages, coastline, and an historic castle.

The late summer sunset meant we had to stay out late to see the cottage windows light up. Worth it.
Everything became a Folkemødet session meeting site in Allinge, even these lovely tall ships.
Hammershus is a medieval era fortification on the northern tip of the island.

Our final stretch of riding was around the northern part of the island and back to Rønne where the ferry docks. We rode what might be the steepest hills in Denmark, which did give us some amazing views, and through more historic fishing villages with old herring smoker chimneys. The smell of wild coastal roses will always remind me of Bornholm Island.

So many blooming roses in June.
The final stretch to Bønne, and the ferry to Sweden.

To the ferry, to Sweden, and on to more long summer days of cycle touring. Moving every night makes keeping up with our blog more challenging, so yes, we are behind on our updates! We stare at each other, exhausted after a long day riding and say “you gonna blog?” But we enjoy sharing our trip with everyone, and blogging helps us give structure to our experiences. Until next blog have a wonderful summer.

The happy travelers in Nexø, enjoying a late sunset.

We came, we saw, we ate.

We weren’t expecting Turkish food to be so varied, and so good. Neither of us have much experience with Turkish food, it’s not something we have a lot of in San Francisco- or at least not that we know of or frequent. We knew it would be good, healthy, and fresh – or so we’d heard, but our expectations were absolutely exceeded. Some of you will love this post loaded with photos of food. Others may roll your eyes and imagine us doing the thing where no one can touch the food until someone properly snaps a cell phone photo. Yes. We did that. A lot.

Our first mezze plate in Istanbul. And our first meal of three at this restaurant, The New Hatay, where we also made new friends- hi Sue and Peter!
Our first documented restaurant cat. It started to feel as if you were never further than 2 meters from a cat in Istanbul, which I was fine with. Feeding the cats with tidbits from your meal was quite usual.

We don’t have photos of every meal, or every restaurant cat (or dog). And I can’t tell you what each dish was, but overall the food was fantastic. Were there awkward moments when we stumbled through a menu with no English translation with the help of Google translate – yes, many! Did we have waiters bring us English language menus that seemed to have no relation to the Turkish menu? Yes. There was some pointing at other table’s food. We muddled through and enjoyed a lot of good meals.

That chef’s special salad in front of me at the Daphne restaurant in Istanbul was a non translated item on the menu. Always a fun choice! It was perfect.

Most of the restaurant dining we did was outside, or by large open windows, but always, always, in the shade. It wasn’t too hot anywhere yet, but I am notoriously sun adverse.

No, that carton of popcorn was not our dinner, the glass of wine and giant beer were followed by hamburgers which I failed to document. This was in the Beşiktaş neighborhood of Istanbul which was noisy and crowded and so much fun.
Oh look! Here we are back at the New Hatay Restaurant for lunch. Why so many visits? It was on a lovely quiet side street, the staff were so friendly and helpful, and the food was good. Pide, which is described as Turkish pizza.

Our one complaint about Turkish dining is the cigarette smokers. Before we pick a table we carefully judge the prevailing wind direction and eyeball the other diners – who’s got cigarette packs on the table, who’s almost done eating and therefore likely to light up? We come from San Francisco which has some of the strictest rules in the world – no smoking at outside tables, no smoking near doors or windows – and it’s lovely to be able to live your life rarely inhaling secondhand smoke. In Turkey you are closer to a smoker than a cat at all times and you will usually be inhaling someone’s smoke. If no one is smoking near you right now, just wait a few minutes. Someone will light up.

Snack break in Izmir on our walk to the shopping mall. Fuse Ice Tea and pastries. In the shade.
Lunch at the mall! That’s Iskender Kebap, döner and tomato sauce on a bed of bread or potatoes. After it comes to your table a lady comes by with a huge pot of clarified butter and pours it on until you say stop.
Kebap in Selçuk.
Cat coveting kebap in Selçuk.
Two fantastic salads, lentil soup, yogurt with dill, cucumber, and garlic oil. Selçuk.
Still in Selçuk, chicken shish kebab for me, I think Rich had beef and mushrooms. The wait was long (we were warned) but the food was delicious.

We rented an apartment in Bodrum and cooked for ourselves for five nights, so no food photos from that town. We also had an apartment in Datça, with minimal cooking facilities though, so we had breakfast and lunch in, and dinner out.

Datça cafeteria style lunch on our first day there. It can be a bit intimidating when you have very little idea of what anything is, but one of the young servers walked us through the line of food. Zucchini fritters and Aubergine casserole, lentil soup, yogurt with dill and garlic oil, rice pilaf and something else yummy. More Fuse Ice Tea.
A small restaurant in Datça that serves only one thing, meatballs, or köfte. Easy ordering, they have one type each day. Two please.
Please please please, says the dog who woke up just as we were served.
One of the most delicious mezze courses. From the right, yogurt with spicy oil, celery heart with strawberries and I think pomegranate syrup, beets with mint and mulberries, red peppers in oil and other delicious things, and I cannot remember what the last dish was. The restaurant made five different mezze each day and you got what they had. All fantastic.
Rich stunned by size of the fresh hot lavash in Fethyie.
Restaurant cat stunned that I shared almost half of one chicken shish with them. Friends for life.
Simit elevenses in Fethiye mid bike ride. A simit is the circular bread which you could be forgiven for thinking is a bagel. Similar, and chewy delicious.

One thing we fantasized about during the long months of stay at home pandemic were hotel breakfasts. Remember that one, we’d say, in Kuala Lumpur? Or that one in Sweden with the fish? We like our breakfasts. A hotel breakfast buffet done well is a travel memory created.

This hotel in Antalya created breakfast memories, for sure.
The second morning we knew to go for a walk first and arrive very hungry.

Turkish breakfasts are huge. Loads of greens and veggies and olives, breads and cheeses, fruit, eggs in spicy tomato sauce. Dried fruit, nuts, yogurt, and as many cups of çay (black tea) as you can handle. And coffee of course, Turkish coffee.

Dinner at the pension at Lake Eğirdir. They would have three options on offer, all cooked fresh on site. With a fantastic view over the lake. Kofte for me and chicken for Rich. And again fantastic mezze. I am on the hunt for a cookbook of Turkish mezze written in English.
Hey, how about a dish that was developed to use up dry stale bread and leftovers bits of butchered animals? Another restaurant that does one thing only. Two please.
Tirit, broken open to reveal the yogurt and bread under the meat. Delicious. This was in Konya, a more traditional city. Oh, that little dish of peppers? Spicy. Very spicy.
Into every trip some comfort food must come. Pancakes in Izmir at a woman owned cafe whose owner also walked me over to her hairdresser for a haircut.

I hope this trip down food memory lane was as fun for you to browse as it was for us to eat. Any restaurant choosing squabbles we may have had are forgotten. Any long treks up and down streets considering and rejecting places to eat only helped sharpen our appetites. To all the restaurant cats I didn’t manage to share meals with, I’m sorry. I did my best.

Me? I got very few tidbits.
The happy well fed travelers on our last full day in Turkey. Overlooking the harbor of Izmir and thinking about lunch.

Istanbul. Have we landed in a huge cat Café?

Kitty takes advantage of a micro mobility device to take a bath.

We were ready for the cats of Istanbul, having watched the fantastic documentary from 2016, Kedi, about the cats and the peoples relationship to the many, many, many cats.

Treat for me?

Did that stop me from being bowled over with enthusiasm for each and every cat I saw? No. I’m sure Rich got tired of hearing me announce ‘kitty’ every time I spied a cat. But he is a good sport. Even when I assured him that the cats won’t jump up on the chairs at the restaurant – right before a cat did just that to get access to his lap.

Rich is allergic to cats. Therefore cats love him and seek him out.
Not all cats wanted our attention, many looked like they had places to be, as they trotted along the sidewalks.
Or rested in a slightly out of the way place.
Or did whatever the cats were doing up there. Cat stuff?
The first of many cat photos I took. I got used to this look of mild interest. Many shied away from a petting, but not all.

It warms my heart to see how so many people care for the cats, and stop to give a scratch behind the ears if possible, and how many little cat houses and cat food dot the urban landscape.

At the old train station, now a subway stop since high speed rail has come to town.
Surveying the station.
Museum cat accepts a pet. The blue mosque in the background.

It wasn’t just cats that caught our attention over our five days in Istanbul. The tulip festival was also a delight to see.

Gülhane Park was a riot of tulips.
Sunday was the day to be out enjoying the sunshine and photographing the flowers.
What a lovely way to bring joy to the city.
The Happy Travelers, jet lag almost gone.

There is much more to see and do in Istanbul than we managed to squeeze in, so I hope we’ll be back again sometime. The ten hour time change was tough – we hadn’t had a shift like that in quite a while and we both felt it pretty acutely. We were lucky to have a friend of a friend to meet up with, and made new friends thanks to a charming kitty at a charming restaurant. Hopefully Rich will time to write more about Istanbul, there were a lot things to appreciate from an urbanist transportation point of view.

The Las Vegas I didn’t know.

It had been decades since we’ve visited Las Vegas. How long? Well, casinos were still using coins the last time we visited. And if the fact that the slot machines now print out paper receipts is news to you too – welcome to my shocked world.

The fountains at the Bellagio. Reliable free fun.

We went to Vegas to visit with family who had a trip already planned. That’ll be fun we thought, to be there with people who know Vegas. And was it! I came away with so many insights about this desert vacation mecca. And, a renewed belief that you cannot judge a place you don’t know.

Escalator to heaven?

First realization: It’s a fairly egalitarian vacation destination. You can go high spending, fancy, big gambling budget, top dollar shows, or, as we saw many folks doing, lower budget,weekday, bring food to your room and walk around enjoying the sights. And, according to the gaming reports issued, fewer people are gambling. And more are bringing children with them. As we all know, a child with access to a swimming pool on vacation is a happy child.

Fremont Street Experience. A bit about the “showgirls” in pink feathers and the ones in yellow in the previous photo: you pay them to take a photo with you. Like the cartoon characters and super heros in Times Square, NYC. I am neutral on this – there were quite a few men in cowboy hats or bow ties with bare chests also available for photos – equal opportunity exploitation? If it is exploitation.

Another shock, the walking experience along the strip is actually not bad. Of course it wasn’t hot yet, but the sidewalks are fine, there are pedestrian overpasses with escalators and stairs, and although the urbanist in me screams ‘change the light timing to reflect the real world person through put’ (many more humans on foot crossing the street than people in cars, yet the light is held green for the space hogging cars). There are very few places to stop, sit, and observe life which are not part of a paid experience, but there is quite a bit of outdoor plaza life. And for many, this may be the best walkable, social, planned urban area they get to enjoy.

The spring decorations at the Bellagio. Instagram heaven.
Neon Cowgirl Vegas Vickie.

Although I’m a white woman with no experience of what travel is like for people of color, to me, Vegas seemed like a good place to travel for anyone. The diversity of people, and shared sense of fun, of vacation enjoyment, was really very uplifting. Yes, it’s all wrapped around a gambling culture that wants to separate you from your money, but all seemed to be very welcome. The hospitality felt the same no matter who you were. And the people watching is fantastic. Folks are having fun and looking amazing while they do.

Family time!
The men in blue.

If you find travel interesting, you can find anyplace interesting. This trip was a good reminder to put aside preconceived notions and simply look around and enjoy. There really is no where like Las Vegas.

Rich with a Chihuly backdrop.
The happy travelers.

The best part of Vegas was our time with family, the best part of San Francisco was time with friends. And now we are off to our next adventure, Turkey. We fly to Istanbul tomorrow.

Truly charming Alberobello. Trulli.

The Bella Vista of the trulli. Trulli is the plural of trullo. Helpful?

This fantastic UNESCO world heritage site is firmly on the tourist track of the Puglia region, for good reason. The stone buildings are amazing and adorable. Even more adorable with a dusting of snow.

One of the narrow streets of town.
Close up of a dry stacked roof.

Why, you ask, are these squat little buildings called trullo built this way? Two main reasons, per Wikipedia – abundant building material in the form of limestone boulders collected from fields, originally. And, the Count of Conversano who gave permission for the first “town” here, was avoiding taxes which would have been due to the Spanish viceroy of the Kingdom of Naples. Apparently, no mortar – no taxes.

There are many trulli you can stay in. Maybe not ideally suited to tall modern men, but fascinating.

Like many UNESCO sites Alberobello was both saved and destroyed by its designation in 1996. The buildings, saved. The probably once characterful town, now firmly on the tourist track, another tick on the travel itinerary – gone. Destroyed is a strong word, but we do find the friendliness of locals is an inverse curve to the number of tourists. Other than the charming little streets of trulli walking in town is not so charming, with impatient drivers and narrow if any sidewalks. So what does the savvy visitor do? Head out of town on a country side walk.

Just chilling with a trullo. And a massive old olive tree.
The 50th trullo is just as fascinating as the 1st.
The olive trees will also stop you in your tracks for a closer look.
Trulli lane. There are enough stones around here to build houses and walls.

We quickly left town behind and the countryside felt very rural. It sounded rural too. The barking dogs had us both grab a couple of small stones for our pockets as dog bite deterrents, but we didn’t need them. All dogs were safely contained. And once we left the outskirts of town there were few people and fewer dogs. Off season this area was quiet, in season the vacation dwellings probably have a lot of life. Vaccination note: since we love to ramble on back roads on foot and on bike, we got vaccinated for rabies – which means if we get bitten by a dog we need only one fairly available shot instead of the full and less available course of shots. On our hike out of Sorrento Rich did indeed get nipped by a little terror of a terrier, but it didn’t break the skin. We’re glad we got those vaccinations.

A garden trullo, maybe a storage shed, with Rich added for scale.
There were trullo in need of attention.
There were trulli which were truly scrumptious.
And there were trulli looking for new owners. Anyone?
This became a perfect walk. Sunshine, snow on the ground, and eye catching scenery
Muddy lanes and olive groves.
Giving the Swiss firewood stackers a run for their money, firewood in the shape of a trullo.
Getting to Alberobello is a lovely train ride, the train is going the perfect speed for sightseeing.
Puglia regional train and a happy traveler.
Two happy travelers. We spent one night in Alberobello, then back to Bari for a night, and on to Rome.

As our trip back to the US gets closer we’re both getting very excited to see family and friends. See you all soon.

The Rise and Fall of Civilizations…

One of the joys of extended travels is discovering the connections and overlapping layers of history, from the Neolithic to this shocking few weeks in Post Cold War Europe. You see snippets of history, in both the context of the ancient society, and the modern context of how it is presented.

Chariot ruts in Pompei show just how much traffic plied these streets, and that there are always infrastructure maintenance backlogs!

In this part of the world, it is still stunning to discover the vastness and complexities of the Roman empire from Morocco to England, and of course, in modern Italy.

Literally layers of history at Herculaneum, right up to the old shoreline.

The past week’s events in Ukraine overlapping with visits to two of the world’s greatest archeological sites, Herculaneum and Pompéi has been sobering. Most of us understand the risks of Putins end game, but it’s especially painful for Europeans who bore the brunt of two world wars and protracted Cold War. History does feel like it is doomed to repeat itself.

The empty Herculaneum on a Monday morning; a joy to explore!

There is a lot to take in at both UNESCO sites, so we decided it was best to separate our visits by a few days. We had planned on trying to get to Herculaneum early on Sunday morning from Naples, and set out from our hotel at 8am sharp only to be stymied by misinformation on the metro and train schedules….(BTW the Moovit app is best in Naples).

I wonder what was for lunch?

So as we sat on a crowded platform, with the prospect of getting to Herculaneum 1 1/2 hours after opening on by far the busiest day of the week, we decided eating €5 train tickets was a small price to pay for a better experience and left the station for another day. Another blessing of long term travels.

Looking towards the impluvium…Roman Villas are so impressive for their thought in design and layout; not much to improve in 2000 years of architectural development.

It was a great decision as we were able to stop at Herculaneum on the way to Sorrento on Monday, and had the place practically to ourselves….oh, and the sky was bluer on Monday too -:). This also gave us the opportunity to watch the excellent BBC documentary on Herculaneum which really did enhance our experience the next day.

Endless Pompei….20,000 lived here at its peak and 18,000 did get out on August 24, AD 79

Both Herculaneum and Pompéi are on the CircumVesuvia regional train line that runs from Naples to Sorrento, so an “on the way” visit is a great option, especially as both sites have left luggage facilities. The Pompéi entrance is very close to the train station, but Herculaneum is almost a kilometer away downhill, so best if you are traveling light with backpack luggage, but it is certainly doable with a roller bag (if you can stand the sound on the sidewalks!)

Left luggage at Herculaneum…simple services like this can make a travel day possible.

Herculaneum was a prosperous and smaller city than Pompéi; kind of a posh suburb. When it was hit by the huge earthquake of AD 62, many of its wealthier residents took the damage as an opportunity to remodel…of course, only to be buried by 50 feet of the pyroclastic flows of Mt. Vesuvius just years later in AD 79. The site is compact and surprising in its somewhat dense surroundings of a more modern town.

Yes, there were cats in Pompei

What was also surprising to us, was all the people that still live in the shadow of the mountain, taking a calculated risk that it won’t erupt soon, or with such force. They say there will be some warning from the vulcanologists and seismologists next time. And of course, we lived in San Francisco for 30 years, so can understand taking a risk living somewhere you love or is your home. Or both.

The restored vineyards of Pompei with Vesuvius in waiting.

After a nice day off in Sorrento walking in the local hills of lemon groves, we visited Pompéi by taking the train back from Sorrento on Wednesday, and again enjoyed an enjoyed light crowds.

Taking a Roman break walking in the hills of Sorrento, with spring finally showing it’s serious in Southern Europe

In fact we walked up to the ticket window at 9:30 am with no line. It did get a bit busier as the day went on, but still an apparent trickle compared to pre-COVID times, as the tour buses have not returned yet. Somewhat a golden time for travel if you can get here.

The tranquil footpaths to Marina Lobra, near Sorrento

Pompéi is vast and sprawling, and it stuns you with the scale of the city’s ancient streets, sidewalks, and lunch cafes. Romans ate lunch out routinely, apparently to feed their appetites building vast baths, forums, and an amphitheater.

The slight curves and meanders of Pompeii’s roads was insightful urban planning

It was so easy to visualize the vibrant community, with its rolling and meandering streets, variety of villas, and the detailed understanding that has been miraculously deduced about the residents of almost every significant building. Artists, traders, cooks, politicians, and more recently nearby, slave quarters that give insight into the reality of the indentured servitude that supported much of the Roman’s impressive legacy.

The work never stops at Pompei, as new discoveries await daily. Amazing.

It also helps to visit the fantastic Archaeology museum in Naples first as we did, so you can see many of the original artifacts, frescos, sculptures, and mosaics first, and the drop them into Pompéi and Herculaneum, like objects in SimCity AD79. There are a lot of in situ items still remaining at both sites, and many buildings at Pompéi are under restoration or access is limited to protect the fragile elements from so many visitors.

Art and story telling enriched every aspect of Roman life….it all feels so modern.

So as we headed out of Pompéi to continue along the Amalfi coast, we both relished this unique time to travel, our freedom, and the fact that our civilization is generally still thriving. But also more cognizant than ever that it can fall apart in an instant….or at least an archeological instant. We have to learn from history and react.

The happy travelers looking for their seats in the Amphitheater

Peace and love to all, especially to those who have recently fled their homes from an impending calamity.

Venice exhales with Carnivale spirit.

The Grand Canal view from Ca’ Rezzonico Museum.

What to do as tourist numbers are still down in the (hopefully) waning months of the pandemic? Head to places usually much too crowded to consider. We always say the B and C destinations are our thing, we prefer the less visited sites. But the idea of Venice with fewer tourists? Yes please. We didn’t even realize it was the start of Carnivale. With Italy just lifting the outdoor mask requirements a few weeks ago, we were surprised and happy to learn that Carnivale was on – in a more limited way than usual.

Our first sighting of a costumed reveler.
The edge of Piazza San Marco.

At first I was a bit timid about taking photos. But the revelers were posing for everyone. It reminded me of a Halloween/Beach Blanket Babylon mash up.

The masks have eyeholes, but with black mesh over them. The wearers are able to see but not well. They are super careful going up and down the bridge steps.
Looking so regal and poised.
Having a chat with friends.

It was Piazza San Marco and the lack of crowds there that really made us appreciate what a unique time this was to visit Venice. Like much of the world we watched with horror the terrible effects of the pandemic in Italy, and wondered what it would feel like to be tourists in the after times. Since we don’t speak much Italian, it’s difficult to know what the locals are feeling about the return of tourists. Yes, it’s a big part of the economy, but for all of us who spent the lockdown days in places with usually high tourism levels, it was nice to get a breather from over-tourism. How to navigate the return of what can be an onslaught? What we do is try to be good tourists, respectful visitors, and keep our impact as low as possible.

On a bridge on the island of Murano. I nod my thanks and say bellissima.
Who doesn’t love costumes?
The view from the other side. Piazza San Marco.

We spent a wonderful three nights walking, taking Vaporetto (the public transit boats), eating, and enjoying being in a city that seems unbelievable.

The view from a bridge. Somewhere on a day of many miles of walking.
Stylish Italians photobomb our vaporetto usie.
Evening on the Grand Canal.
Sun setting behind gondolas.
The happy travelers catching the setting sun.

And now we’re on a train to Naples, where we anticipate more Carnivale activities all weekend long.

Six months of travel. Already.

Pre flight testing at San Francisco airport the day before our flight in August, 2021.

Six months of travel so far. I should add the word only to remind myself it’s ONLY been six months. It feels much longer. To have so many new experiences after 18 months of home body living skews your sense of time. We talk about something we did three months ago and it feels as if it were a year or more in the past. I want to tell you what we’ve learned, and what have been our successes, but first – what do I miss?

Baking. Like many I leaned into cooking and baking during the height of the pandemic. I miss my sour cream coffee cake.

Friends and family are of course on top of the list of what I miss. And I miss baking. But, for everything I miss (except friends and family), there is a consolation activity or option.

Danish bakery in London. Bakeries are a lovely consolation for not being able to bake.

I miss knowing our way around a place. Living for so many years in SF meant I could bike, walk, or take transit almost anywhere without consulting a map. Now, maps are our constant friends.

Rich working the smartphone and paper map on a foggy hike near Grange-Over-Sands.

The upside of not knowing your way around is the constant discovery of new things. Every place, every turn of a corner, every walk to a museum, restaurant, or train station might have an unexpected gem just waiting for us to notice it.

Arrived by bus to Axminster train station in need of a snack. A sign pointed us 50 yards away to a milk vending machine.
Chocolate milk? Yes please.

Every fun discovery gives us a chance to chat with locals, like the gent who was coming to refill his milk bottles at the milk vending machine and walked us through the process. And then a man returning to his work truck from a hardware store nearby stopped to congratulate us on finally figuring out the vending machine, and we chatted for 20 minutes, hearing about his trips to Scotland and France and sharing our own travel stories. It’s not the same as seeing old friends while walking or biking in SF, and we’ll never see those two men again, but I will claim them as momentary friends.

Typical room while bike touring. Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

Comfortable furniture. That we miss! If a hotel room has two chairs we consider ourselves lucky. If even one of them is actually comfortable we’re thrilled.

Two chairs. And fairly comfortable. Heated floors, good for drying laundry. Disentis, Switzerland.

The uncomfortable furniture is a small price to pay for the privilege of travel like this. Our time in the UK helped us appreciate slow travel. And I’ve learned to fluff, flip, and rearrange the couch seat cushions in our rental apartments to try and eke out a bit more comfort .

Dinner ready to be cooked in an apartment in Colmar, France.

So what have we learned to make ourselves happy and healthy while traveling long term? Cook for ourselves as much as possible which means apartments with kitchens. We amass a roving pantry when we’re staying in places with kitchens. And we check for a local farmers market first thing.

Farmers Market haul from Keswick, in the Lake District.
Yoga mat folded up for travel. It’s thin and natural rubber so quite sticky.

Exercise is key. Easy when bike touring and when getting a lot of walking in, but we both have specific stretches and strength building exercises we need to do. Enter travel yoga mat. It’s nice to have and even more, it’s a good reminder to actually do the stretches and work outs. After trying to buy it in person I caved and ordered from Amazon to be delivered to an Amazon locker in London. I also ended up ordering laundry detergent sheets from Amazon to be delivered to a locker in Liverpool. Again after failing to find them at local shops. As much as I don’t love Amazon, the ability to get deliveries while traveling is very helpful. Laundry sheets are a fantastic travel item. Light to carry and useful for sink laundry as well as for confusing all in one washer/dryer combo machines.

Defunct train viaduct near Lyme Regis. Rich added for scale. Walking keeps us happy.
The happy, clean, well exercised travelers in France.

We are currently in France, swapping out some gear for our next adventures. Where to next? Italy.