New York Is Not New England!

So after a relatively quick recovery from Covid in Lisbon, we finally made it back to the United States! We rejoined a revised and somewhat compressed itinerary and still arrived JFK via TAP Airways new fuel efficient A330. (Ok for airplanes at least…)

Easy to come back to fall in Prospect Park

When our house sit in Boston fell through due to the owners case of Covid (ironic yes), Cheryl worked her magic and found a last minute house sit in Brooklyn. So after a quick change of plans and one obligatory night in an overpriced chain hotel close to the airport in Queens, we were off to Brooklyn by Long Island Rail Road (LIRR).

Happy back on the NYC rails!

The house sit was a bit of a challenge with two old cats, lots of medications, and tight quarters, but certainly a memorable experience and in a part of Brooklyn we have never explored, Park Slope. It also was just a block from 4 subway lines!

The 478 acre Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn is so nice that it inspired the development of Prospect and Central Parks

It was a magnificent fall weekend and the weather was perfect for strolling, not to mention all the Halloween decorations and costumes, although admittedly, it’s often hard to pick out costumes from just “Friday” in uber hip Brooklyn.

Battle Hill in GreenWood was part of the under appreciated Battle of Brooklyn in 1776. The British would occupy NYC for 7 years!

The walking in Brooklyn also felt invigorating after Lisbon’s lumpy limestones. We could once again stride briskly, with standard crosswalks, and short light cycles. The fall colors and crisp weather were so magnificent that Cheryl belted out in Prospect park that “New England is so beautiful this time of year”. Wait, we are NOT in New England!! This is New York!

Ferry hopping on the East River

After some of her doubts were quickly settled by Google, we strolled on, but I was reminded that I was married to a true West Coast woman. I would be reminded again when she couldn’t believe we had passed through some states in an hour or less. Wait, seriously just 15 minutes in New Hampshire?! And how do so many Dunkin’ Donuts survive?

Kicking back at the Brooklyn Bridge Park

After three days loaded with good friends, perfect bagels and NY pizza, we were off via subway and Metro North train to New Haven, CT where we could pick up a rental car right at the station. The car was by far the best solution for our ambitious and compressed schedule we had to visit all our friends and family over the next 8 days.

A taste of the rural Berkshires at the lovingly restored Old Mill Inn in Hatfield, MA
Leaving our spacious room at the Old Mill Inn, complete with weir and waterfall view (and soothing noise!) A treat after our cramped house sit in Brooklyn.

It was nice to be back in the U.S., as things felt familiar and interactions were clear. We sometimes forget that we are even in foreign countries anymore as foreignness is our new normal. And we immediately appreciated small things like ubiquitous ice (just try to find an ice machine in a European hotel.) faster paced restaurant service (tip please), and giant American salads (Yes, Elaine Benes you can have a really big salad)

Lake Champlain sunset from Burlington, Vermont. (New England…). The Adirondacks
of NY in the distance.
Visiting one of my mysterious cousins in Burlington on Halloween

As for the things we didn’t miss? Crazy political ads on the TV, giant tailgating pickup trucks, ignorance, and shockingly high prices compared to much of Europe. (Not necessarily in that order -;)

All Orange in Burlington

The cost of living surprises people when we mention it, as many generally assume that Europe must be more expensive than the US. First off, the strength of the US dollar is peaking, and second, many people take short trips to the most expensive (A-list) cities only in Europe, and so get a skewed view of costs in general.

Recommended road trip stops included Rein’s New York Deli in Connecticut. Home of delicious Reubens and Rachels.
Smiling at my delicious spicy noodles with tripe at Jibei Chuan in Boston’s Chinatown
Cycling on Boston’s extensive Blue Bike system was great with the $10 day pass which allows unlimited trips up to 2- hours each.
Heading to Boston on the Charles River Greenway. Nice to park the rental car for the day and get back on two wheels.

There also seems to be fewer corporate entities taking profits in the food chain of capitalism in other countries. Groceries, lodging, eating out, and transportation (except gas and parking), are cheaper almost everywhere we have been in the past 15 months. We won’t even bring up health care as costs are incomparable and often an order of magnitude less in Europe. (i.e. podiatrist in Bilbao, Spain $40, US $400+). Whoops, I brought it up again. So perhaps the social safety net and low health costs trickles through businesses to keep costs a bit lower.

Boston is so academic that the books overflow into alleys at the famous Brattle Bookstore

But we had a wonderful time on our big New England driving loop, and still managed to work in some lovely walks, and a day of cycling into Boston. We really enjoyed reconnecting with folks and the mountains, rivers, ponds, streams, and trees that seem to fill 99% of New England.

Trying to catch a leaf for good luck along the Fresh Pond in Cambridge
Waking my childhood streets with an old friend from the neighborhood was a joy.

I vow to come back to New England (and maybe even New York) more frequently, as staying in touch with your roots is important, and the feeling I had walking the neighborhoods of my childhood was joy, satisfaction, and peace. They are forever etched in my mind. No matter where else we go in the world, and whatever we experience, these memories of place will not be replaced. Experiences build in layers and hopefully growth and perspective with them.

Old Ship Church in Hingham. The oldest continuously operating church in the U.S.
Yikes, a bit shocking to see my childhood house being gutted and expanded.

So today is Election Day and we are now headed to Chicago for more family and friends recharge. We have our fingers crossed that people don’t take for granted the 200+ years of work it took to create the civic institutions and foundations for prosperity that we have.

Reconnecting with old friends all over New England was a trip highlight
Revolutionary War Graves in Hingham. America is a wondrous experiment.

Our system is not perfect and always a work in progress. But the institutions of democracy are unique, precious, and tenuous. And despite participating in many conflicts from afar, we have been physically isolated from the worst impacts of them, just as we are again isolated from the Ukraine invasion. We don’t share a border with an invader, and haven’t been occupied. But this could change in a flash. And the enemy could come from within. We can feel the fear in Europe as the free world knows a stable United States is still key to world stability.

Under the pier at Old Orchard Beach with my favorite traveling companion -:)

Long live democracy and happy travels!

Laying Low in Lisbon

Well, it was bound to happen. After over 14 months of travel, Covid finally caught up to us. Being really sick is definitely a low point of extended (or even short) travels. You just want to be home, have all your comforts, and be better. Luckily, our nomadic lifestyle has prepared us to deal with travel uncertainties a bit better and stay calm when a hiccup develops…even major ones.

It’s easy to find the charm of Lisbon, even recovering from a bout of Covid.

After we tested positive earlier this week, we immediately prioritized our next steps: push back the flight to the NYC, extend our lodging in Lisbon, notify our friends we were to stay with in the US, and think about contingencies.

So leafy and with a mild Mediterranean climate, Lisbon feels so much like San Francisco

We respect this new virus and know that it has brought untold misery on the world, and uncertain outcomes to even the healthiest. And although Covid hit us hard for a few days, the worst soon passed. We are lucky to be quite healthy, with daily exercise, good sleep habits, and a good diet (mostly, as we do indulge in local foods that may not be on any top 10 health food lists).

Our big adventure to the grocery store to stock up for an unknown duration of hunkering down. Rain and slippery limestone not helping!

Of course stomach ailments are a part of travel too, and we’ve had our share of them over many years, including India, Mexico, and Morocco. But one of the only nice things about stomach bugs is that they are usually over very suddenly. You often go from wanting to die on the toilet to wanting a double cheeseburger and a beer in hours. And we’ve always been lucky enough to only have one of us down and out at once. The other person is available to get hydration, meds, and make any travel changes.

Although revitalization and gentrification has spruced up most buildings in Lisbon, there are still a few fixer uppers available.

But this hit us both at almost the same time. We were a bit fatigued as we left Bilbao, and fully masked on our travels, but it didn’t feel like anything more than maybe some post-Camino tiredness and a little stuffy head (No cough, no fever.). But it had settled in deeper by the time we got to Lisbon and we both woke up Wednesday morning with brain fog, extreme tiredness, more congestion, and some decent aches and pains. The Covid rapid tests an hour later confirmed what we already suspected…we both had it.

Feeling Lisbon’s nautical roots on the Tagus

Luckily, we had booked an apart-hotel room for our 3 day stay and we were able to extend to 8 days in the same unit. It’s quiet and has two big windows looking at trees, and over 500 sq ft in two rooms, including (crucially) a kitchenette. So we are able to adventure out to grocery stores for supplies and have all our meals here, as well as lots of healthy fruit and veg, comfort food, and juices.

The iconic tram cars of Lisbon look like cute toys, but are still as functional as ever.

The two rooms allowed some space for us to relax separately in such cosy quarters. By Friday morning we both felt noticeably better, so Cheryl took another test. If she was still a strong positive, then we wouldn’t waste another test. So we were both thrilled when she tested negative, and I decided to test as well. Still somewhat positive…Today it was an almost imperceivable line, so I’m almost certain to be 100% negative by tomorrow!

Look, real laundry drying in the Alfama! Maybe a family still lives here….

So we are happy with our decision to push back our flights to the US to this Wednesday, as we’ve actually been able to start going out and enjoying some of this very beautiful city. We also had masked all day on our way to Lisbon, including the plane, and taxis, so hopefully we did not infect others, but it’s also made us realize that the virus is out there everywhere, and continuing our cautious ways in the future is smart, not to mention getting all the available boosters we can. We don’t want to go through this again (too soon) and don’t want to put anyone else unnecessarily at risk. But the virus is now a part of life, and part of travel, like it or not.

Cheryl’s negative test smile with the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge…always a double take for our beloved Golden Gate

Another item of note is the fact that we’ll be on Day 89 of 90 allowable Schengen days this Wednesday, so we’re also really glad that we left 6 visa days of validity slack in our plans. For those who don’t recall, a U.S. citizen can only be in the 26 country border-free Schengen Zone of Europe for up to 90 days out of any 180 day contiguous period without a country-specific extended stay visa. It’s a rule that catches a lot of long term travelers out.

Endless ups and downs across Lisbon.

This is our second visit to Lisbon, as we were last here for 4 nights in early 2018, along with visits to Porto, and Coimbra. It’s still charming, and I especially love the extreme vertical terrain, where you never quite know which way is out of a valley. Surprises await if you get off the beaten track, but one thing that’s noticeable from even our last stay, is that the penetration of tourism seems even deeper into the neighborhoods.

Keeping my distance for other tourists catching shots of the funicular in the Alfama

It’s the age old conundrum of tourism development: by coming to see what everyone else wants to see, you are slowly changing it, and before long, the native and organic neighborhood elements are completely flushed out. Lisbon is still real, and there are Portuguese tourists here as well, but the relentless conversion of neighborhood properties into short term rentals via AirBnB, new boutique hotels and spas, and easy air access for cheap weekend visits, has made much of it feel a bit overrun.

Lisbon’s revitalized waterfront includes this cool bio-algae pond with floating cork islands. (The Vino Verde corks have a home now!)
The grittiness of the the western port area was refreshing after the heavily touristed core

It feels like a City fighting to keep its character. We recognize this from San Francisco, and know that locals will always know how to avoid the tourists and the touristy restaurants, etc. But San Francisco had a big advantage over Lisbon in the past 40 years, it was much more expensive to buy property, had strict development rules, and better tenant protections. As the Alfama neighborhood struggled and investment waned, rules were adopted that if someone would buy a property and renovate it, then all the tenants could be evicted. Period. It saved a lot of the buildings from ruin, but apparently decimated the local neighborhood.

Blue skies and an ageless charm in the Alfama

It’s very evident today that only a few pockets of “authentic” neighborhood exist in the Alfama. But cities are always changing and Lisbon is adapting as well. Free transit for seniors and those under 23, a new waterfront revitalization, and a focus on preserving the unique culture.

Way to go Lisbon…free transit is a great way to encourage car free habits at a young age and make sure seniors are mobile

There are also stricter rules on foreign Golden Visas, which have allowed many foreigners to settle in Portugal, but have really changed many neighborhoods in Lisbon, Porto, and smaller towns in the Algarve to expat enclaves. It’s a tough balance for a developing country that had a lot of debt and challenges in the past, but has an amazing extremely welcoming culture, good education and healthcare systems, and a fantastic climate.

Always follow the empty stairway!

But I have meandered a bit too far off track but do promise that next time we come to Portugal, we will see even more of it, and try to spread the tourism love further….perhaps walking along 200km of the Camino Portuguese.

The happy travelers smiling again

Happy fall and looking forward to seeing some of you soon back in the USA!

Hello Pilgrims. Camino del Norte, Irún to Zarautz.

It’s nice to be welcomed.

We’ve been talking about doing the Camino Del Norte for years, ever since we did the Camino Inglés and loved it. So here we are. Rich and I started in Irún and we met our friends Christine and Cecily in San Sebastián, and from there we will all walk to Bilbao.

Beer tap at a galatian restaurant in Irún. That octopus looks shocked. Probably because he’s on the menu.
Heading out of Irún, up to the Hermitage of Guadalupe.
On the ridge with an ocean view.

We won’t be going all the way to Santiago this time. Time constraints. But we are thrilled to be able to hike with friends.

Views like this are the reward for the climbs. Looking back down into Irún.
Our first night in Pasai Donibane, just across from the larger city of Pasaia
The scene in Pasai Donibane. Pretty quiet. Very scenic.
Breakfast in Pasai Donibane, see that yellow arrow on the wall? That’s a Camino marker. We follow those.
A pedestrian ferry across the harbor.
A nice start to the day, being ferried across.
A steep start to the actual walking.
Ah. Reward view.
Smiles on arriving in San Sebastián. Look at that water. And smiles because…
Friends arrive! So happy to be together in Spain with good friends.
We went on a food tour – yes, I was excited by the cheesecake stop.
Bar hopping with drinks and pintxos.
The Happy Pilgrims. Ready to leave San Sebastián.
The way can be rocky.
The way is frequently beautiful.
Pilgrims on the road ahead.
All the happy travelers in Zarautz, Spain.

Not many words in this post. The day gets away from you with 13 miles of walking, a lot of catching up to do, and tired legs to rest. Buen Camino!

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!

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!

Le Tour de Denmark (and beyond!)

So it’s hard to beat Sweden in summer for cycle touring, but despite our somewhat haphazard rambles, we had one date on the calendar for more than a year; the July 1st opening stage of the Tour de France in Copenhagen. Le Grand Départ!

Cheryl on the time trial course in Copenhagen…a little bit ahead of the first rider.

But wait, isn’t the Tour de France in France? Yes, the majority is in France; however, more recently, they start in a nearby country for the first 3 stages (of 21) to help share in the experience and spread the Tour love across borders.

Tour fever was everywhere in Copenhagen

In recent years, the tour has started in Belgium, Spain, Italy, Netherlands and the UK. But this was the first time it had visited cycle-crazy Denmark.

Yup, the tour was coming!

And since we had been moving a lot in the previous month of cycle touring (a few 2 night stops but mostly single touring nights), we decided to head to Copenhagen early and get an apartment for a week in advance of our long-standing 2-night hotel reservation just a 100 meters from the course.

Most of downtown Copenhagen was completely car free for two days. Sweet!

So we crossed from Helsingborg, Sweden to Helsingør, Denmark by ferry across the Kattegat Strait. This short 20 minute crossing was the primary crossing point until the completion of the Oresund bridge/tunnel in 2000, so has robust infrastructure on both sides of the crossings and multiple automated dock structures to load and unload trucks, cars, passengers and the occasional bikes. Very cool.

Waiting to load up in Helsingborg. Wait, another cycle tourist!

It’s still busy, and the Swedish side has a shiny new intermodal station, with great connections for rail, bus, and ferry passengers. As with most European vehicle ferries, bikes load with the cars and trucks, so we made our way around the maze of approach lanes and signs to find our way to a toll booth station where you ride up to window and buy your tickets for the next ferry out.

Crossing to Denmark with a friendly Swede heading out for a 3 month bike packing trip to the tip of Portugal!

As always, it’s a bit of a rush to ride on and off in between big rigs and loading cars, and in this case, no stopping for any immigration as this is an internal EU crossing.

Calling all cycle tourists to Lane 2

We highly recommend taking ferries where you can if bike touring, even if there is another option, as you get the continuous experience of the landscape, get to see some of the seascape, meet other cycle tourists, and can tune into the subtleties of the cultural infrastructure differences in every country. And yes, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands all are unique cycling experiences. More on that later.

The meeting hall in the Danish Workers Museum, an excellent history of the labor movement in Denmark and insight into the modern Danish Social Democracy

Our friend Jason met us about half way along the way on the 50km ride into Copenhagen, and it was great to have an escort and some engaging conversation with a familiar face. Jason is a professor from San Francisco, and was spending the month in Copenhagen, continuing his field studies and collaboration on the politics and implementation of transport policies in Copenhagen and San Francisco.

Good to see Jason! He led us on one of the many nice cycling options into Copenhagen from Helsingor

Jason has literally written a book on the topic, and has great insight on how Copenhagen has become one of the worlds leading bicycle cities; however, noting the challenges facing a lax continued investment in car free space and the troubling growth of auto mobility throughout Denmark.

A beach is never far away cycling along the Danish coast

His insights would align with some of our experiences in Copenhagen and beyond as we toured across Denmark. The country has fantastic cycling infrastructure, but we did find traffic a bit heavy and passing often surprisingly a bit close compared to Sweden and Germany. And some interior towns and cities had very few bikes and large drive through bakeries?!

Denmark and Cheryl were ready for Le Tour!

Our apartment was in Norrebrø, a trendy and leafy neighborhood just outside the more touristed core of Copenhagen. The neighborhood is great, so we took a chance on an Airbnb with only a few sparse reviews. It was fine, but had a few issues.

So many bikes in Nørrebro that parking was often a challenge in front of our favorite bakery

First, although it looked out over the beautiful trees of the adjacent cemetery/park, it was fronted by a fairly busy two-lane road. And since we were there during a rare heat wave, we were faced with the choice of open windows for ventilation or traffic noise. Secondly, we discovered that under the bed was full of clutter with years of thick dust. Cheryl, being the amazing travel companion she is, spent the better part of an hour cleaning under the bed to spare me from the misery of my dust allergies for a week.

Cycling through Assistens Cemetery, a hybrid park and cemetery in the heart of Nørrebro

We don’t use Airbnb very often, but this apartment highlighted some of the challenges of the platform. It had a few sparse 5 star reviews that we feel in retrospect were probably left by friends, and the lack of a specific location when choosing a rental is unprecedented in the lodging industry….and very annoying to me. You should know what you are buying when spending $1000++ for a weekly apartment.

One of the pleasant shared streets of Nørrebro

Our week in Copenhagen was great, but let’s just say, there is now one very detailed review of this apartment, letting prospective guests know exactly the trade offs of what they are getting. I wrote the review that I wish I had read before renting. And to be clear, the apartment was a fine base , but we are particularly sensitive to traffic noise after spending months on the peaceful saddles of our bikes, so would not have chosen the place if fully informed.

The roll through Copenhagen of the teams for the team introduction ceremonies two days before the race starts.
So close to the riders!

Copenhagen was in full embrace of the Grand Depart, and the run up to the opening stage was a blast. Tour signs, decorations, stages, and buzz everywhere. Watching the time trial was fantastic as riders came by every minute, so there was hours of fun with the spirited Danish everywhere along the course. Seriously, every meter of the time trial course had at least a few people at the rails, and 10 or more thick at the popular spots. And yes, it helps to be 6’-5” to have a clear view almost anywhere.

Here comes the promo caravan!

The other interesting aspect of visiting at the end of June was the Midsommer celebrations and the somewhat bizarre 2-week tradition of “studenterkørsel”. This consists of students who are graduating from “gymnasiet” schools (upper secondary school) hiring old military/farm trucks to drive around and pick up other grads, visit each family, and generally rolling around Copenhagen (or anywhere in Denmark) blasting music, drinking, and dancing into the wee hours.

One of the studenterkørsel making a stop right outside our apartment. The party was just getting started!

You can hear them coming blocks away and it’s all very charming at first, but after the third day or fourth day, the charm starts to wear a bit thin. Oh, and did I mention they all wear little sailor hats, unique to each school. This is just one of the quirky and unique traditions in the Scandinavian countries, as they express incredible individuality despite their low populations. (Denmark is smaller than the SF Bay Area!)

My view of the time trial on an exciting corner about 5km from the finish
Heading towards Frederik’s Church with 50,000 Copenhageners on the Saturday all city ride.

After riding the time trial course with 50,000 other crazed cyclists the morning after the first stage, we headed off to Copenhagen central for our intercity train to Nyborg, with the goal of catching the finish of Stage 2.

One of the Danish National Cycle routes…just follow the signs…but we did miss the bicycle directional/distance signs at every bike route Junction typical elsewhere in Europe.

Despite a slightly frightening overcrowded situation with our loaded bikes on the woefully inadequate train platforms of the main station, we managed to beat the peleoton across the Great Belt Bridge to Nyborg. It was one of the busiest travel days of the year combining a summer Saturday, the TdF, and the massive Rosskilde music festival! Whoaa, we were missing our more usual shoulder season travel times.

Even the birdhouses had Tour fever

The Danish train system is ok, but is not as extensive or user friendly for tourists or bicycles as other Northern European countries. You have to reserve bike space on intercity (IC or ICL) trains and they are all high boarding trains, so it’s necessary to hoist your bikes up after scrambling to load your bags. Some of the less common regional trains are first-come first served for bike space, as well as the S-trains around Copenhagen. Secondly, the DSB App and website will not accept US credit cards, and has only one bespoke mobile payment system, which you can only sign up for with a Danish phone number!

Some nice stretches through the woods

So we had to go CPH central and wait in the queue to buy our paper tickets and paid 3x as much as the discounted tickets still available on the App the day before….There are a lot of somewhat protectionist schemes in the Scandinavian countries, such as most shops in the Netherlands not taking visa and Mastercard, only “Maestro”. But I get that you want to keep the money and jobs local, and not pay Visa or Mastercard 2% of every transaction in your country with no benefit of employment or trickle down from the company profits.

This shiny new stretch of path on Funen filled in some busier gaps on backroads

I should note that once you are on the trains, the staff and seating is all very comfortable.

Sizing up a beautiful Danish Smørrebrød sampler in Julesmimde

It was cool to take the train across the 18km Great Belt Bridge in advance of the peloton as you got an appreciation what they were going though. The bridge was closed for the Tour crossing, but you unfortunately can’t cycle across the bridge. (or maybe fortunately given the ever present winds.).

Cheryl with the Little Belt Bridge

Once at Nyborg station, we scoped out a good spot about 1.5 km from the finish line and enjoyed the local crowd, some of whom had been there all day (and perhaps drinking!?) Since we were on fully loaded on our bikes, there was no chance of fighting the thousands who had jockeyed into the finishing sprint stretch. And although they went by fast, there were a lot of stragglers due to a crash that split up the peloton about 2km from our viewing spot.

Chilling in the shade waiting for Stage 2 finish…and loving the 0% beers….cold and free.
Denmark is a leader in wind energy, and for good reason…the winds can be constant off the ever present surrounding bodies of water.

After the stage ended, we rode to the accommodation we had booked about 25km north of Nyborg as the town itself was booked solid. It all worked out great, as we were able to escape the race area quickly, hit a supermarket, and have a lovely early evening ride to our modest row holiday apartment.

Perfect backroads across Funen

The next few days we had some great cycling across Funen, a vast island in the center of Denmark that is linked to Sjæland by the Great Belt and then onto Jutland by the Little Belt Bridge. It’s a nice rolling area of forest and farmland and really fun riding, especially when you get a bit lucky with the winds, which magically turned from the east to the west as we turned in the same direction! Nice.

A very late sunset at our little apartment outside Nyborg.
Lunchtime stopover in Vejie, the starting city for Stage 3

We had a great visit connecting with some of my step family on the lovely coast for a few days, which gave us more opportunity to ask questions about the idiosyncrasies of life in Denmark. But as much as we would have loved to linger a bit longer enjoying the Danish summer scene, we had another deadline of getting to the Hoek of Holland to catch a night ferry to the UK on the 15th. So we spent the next few days riding south towards the German border and then made our way across to northern Holland by a few strategic train hops.

We trailed the 3rd stage of the Tour by only a day or two, which was already a signed national cycling route; very cool!
The Danes really loved the tour

It was a bit hectic as the trains and station transfers in were a bit crazy, and one of our well planned regional trains from Flensburg to Hamburg stopped midway and let everyone off in the middle of nowhere due to a sudden line closure. So instead of waiting for buses that might take hours to get there and pick up the hundreds of stranded passengers, we loaded up our bikes and headed to the next station, hoping to bypass the issue.

The Hanseatic City of Flemsburg Germany

Well, that still didn’t work as the next 3 stations were closed, so we came up with a Plan B, head 40km East to Kiel, a former Hanseatic League city and enjoy a night there, as we had heard the line to Hamburg would reopen the next day.

The somewhat choreographed chaos of the DB intercity bike car… everyone helps each other and spaces are reserved
Bremen, an overlooked gem and former Hanseatic city in northern Germany
Cheryl proud that we finally made it to Bremen, summer travel was a bit crazy.

Although sometimes traveling with bikes on trains is (very) stressful, it also gives you a unique freedom to pivot when an issue arises! This flexibility helped us again as the line from Hamburg to Groningen, Netherlands has been closed for years near the border, due to a failed rail bridge. But we were able to bridge gap easily by riding from the last Deutsche Bahn station in Germany to the first town on the Dutch rail system 20 km away!

Closing the rail gap with our bikes from Leer to Weener, Germany
Success! Ready to board our final train-bike-train leg to Groningen in Weener, Germany

So we breathed a big sigh of relief as our local and mellow Dutch train rolled towards the famous cycling city of Groningen. We decided to spend two nights there to enjoy it sufficiently, but then realized as we headed out two days later that we left ourselves a bit of cycling challenge to make our ferry to the UK on time, especially with the “hills of the Netherlands” (aka wind!)….more on our next leg soon.

Happy August to all -:)

Other People’s Holidays

We’ve covered some ground since leaving Selçuk and have thoroughly enjoyed soaking up the culture, oceans, and food along the stunning Aegean and Mediterranean coasts of Southwest Turkey.

Rare tree shade made the nice swimming at Hastane Beach in Datça even better

The uncertainties of transport, food , and some customs has been more than offset by the friendly and helpful locals. And we’ve stuck to our slow travel ways and navigated by minibus, ferries, and the comfy longer distance coaches that connect all Turkish cities.

Waiting to get our luggage tags in Antalya; just have your seat number and destination ready for the bus attendant
Blending in for sure in Antalya…the major bus stations are lively and well equipped with shops and snacks

One thing we’ve discovered in our travels are the different experiences that you have in a tourist destination that is popular mostly with local versus foreign tourists. Places that are predominately filled with foreign tourists obviously feel less authentic, but also can comfort you with more familiar foods and languages.

Glad to see bike parking for our rentals bikes at the big supermarket (MMM Migros) in Fethiye

But in the extreme, the experience can be virtually cut off from local customs and people, instead replaced with recreated versions of travelers home cultures. (Full English Breakfasts, Schnitzels, and Guinness anyone?). On the other hand, you have a much better chance of meeting other travelers to share a drink, meal, or good chat with. When you’re on long term travels, this can be a nice respite:

We immediately bonded with like minded travelers, Ute and Klaus from Germany and shared two nice evenings with them. Score one for tourist towns!
Buying tram tickets in Antalya with Klaus…a local contactless transit card is key when you arrive in a new region and then you can easily jump on any form of transit that passes by!

In cities, you can get out of the tourist zones by just heading to other neighborhoods. In San Francisco, this would mean heading out of the Wharf and Union Square to the Mission, NOPA, or Inner Sunset.

Bikes are a great way to get away from the tourist areas, even if it’s only got one speed!

However, in smaller places, there is often little escape. Some of the coastal areas of Western Turkey are heavily impacted by foreign tourists seeking sun and swim holidays, with the priorities to relax, and eat and drink comfortably. I get it, as sometimes that’s all we want to do too.

For some reason we chose to avoid this charter boat in Antalya!

That said, we generally cherish the smaller cities and towns that are off the tourist track completely or more locally touristed. But if you don’t speak the language, getting way off the tourist track takes an adventurous spirit, and can be tiring in the long run. A happy medium is to visit places that are full of local tourists, such as Datça. More on Datça shortly.

Shady picnic spot while hiking in the countryside around Datça

We spent 6 days at the end of Ramadan and the Eid Al Fitr holiday in a great apartment in Bodrum. Transport during this big Holiday can be difficult, so we decided to ride out the celebratory heart of it with the local masses who flee Istanbul and other inland areas to head to the coast.

Bodrum does have some foreign tourists too, but the Turkish tourists dominate, so we did feel like foreigners who dropped onto Cape Cod for July 4th weekend. Bodrum has two big bays separated by a rocky peninsula topped by an ancient castle and a fantastic underwater archeology museum.

View from the Bodrum Castle and Underwater Archeological Museum
Reconstruction of the Uluburun shipwreck, ca. 14th c BCE. This amazing find changed the views on how extensive nautical trade networks were in the Bronze Age.

The West Bay is a glitzy promenade lined with cafes, restaurants, and dozens (hundreds?) of large, bulky boats called “gulets”, which are made locally in Turkish boatyards. The East Bay has a more chill beach vibe, and a good public beach at the far end, where we swam at least once a day.

Self guided hike via taxi and mini bus from Bodrum that took in some of the Bodrum Leleg Yolu, a long distance trail that connects the Peninsula with the famous Lycian Way

As we also discovered on a hike in the surrounding hills, there is a ferry dock with daily boats south to Datça… I looked up the intriguing geographic position of Datça and we had found our next move, especially as we could walk to the ferry.

Our comfy neighborhood apartment in Bodrum

Datça is near the end of an amazing peninsula that juts out into Aegean and is surrounded by dramatic hills, ocean coves, small villages, as well as signature nut tree and olive orchards. We spent the very end of the Eid Al Fitr week holiday period in Datça, and loved sharing the holiday spirit and great restaurants in the downtown area.

Locals only off the beach in Datça

The locals were very friendly, and we did not hear another English voice for 3 days. It’s also very light on car traffic and just has a great cozy feel on the small grid of downtown streets, many car free. As we liked to say when we are in such places, we’re experiencing someone else’s holiday, and it feels that Datça is still a little bit off the radar.

Sunday is a big local activity day in Datça, like this group bike ride…if we only had our bikes!

We headed out of Datça by minibus (via Marmaris) down the coast to Fethiye, a beautiful small coastal city, surrounded by steep hills and (still!) snow capped mountains from every vantage. Lots of ancient Lycian ruins in the area, not to mention beaches and turquoise tinged waters. It’s got a big broad waterfront connected by a lovely 5km promenade, but definitely not as cozy as Datça.

The Lycian era tombs above Fethiye
Appreciating the scale of the tombs
Kaya Village is now a ghost town after the 6,000 Greeks had to leave in 1923

Sadly, we realized that our days in Turkey were actually running out, so choose to head directly to Antayla via an inland coach bus (4 hrs) versus continuing along the Mediterranean which would involve 10 hours of sinuous mini bus hops, and leave little time left for other experiences. A friend had told us we could easily spend two months in Turkey and he was spot on, and we definitely plan to return sometime.

Smokers getting last puffs before boarding. Turkey has way too high a smoking rate and consequently, constant second hand smoke is one of the few downsides to travel here.

Antalya is a large coastal city with a nice old town perched above cliffs of an ancient Roman harbor. We enjoyed a few days there, but wanted to head inland to explore a few more less visited spots, so choose to break up a 7-hour bus trip to Konya with a two night stop at Lake Egidir.

Old Greek houses are in various states of disrepair or restoration in Lake Egidir

It’s a huge inland lake, but fairly shallow, and like many areas in Anatolia, a history formed by the Greek exedous/partition following the Greco-Turkish war in 1923. (Officially it was called a “population exchange ”) Somehow it all now feels a bit spooky, and it all has an air of being neither here or there. But since there are only a few places catering to foreign travelers in town, we did find a vibrant scene at our Pension; reminiscent of Pre-COVID times!

Great chatting with Chris and Hillary from Washington State at Lake Egidir. They are touring Turkey by bike for two months. Very impressive for their first extended bike tour!

We are now in Konya, a more conservative large city, where a smaller number of of “western” tourists visit, as it is a major pilgrimage center for Muslims.

Cheryl peruses the options at the main food market hall in Konya.

We wanted to spend some time in somewhere quite different than many of the more liberal coastal areas we’ve been enjoying. So we’re spending two nights here in advance of a 13-hour night train back to Izmir. There a few long distance night trains in Turkey, but make sure you book a week or more in advance to get one of the limited 2-person sleepers, especially as they are very reasonably priced ($30 for 2). We’ll let you know how it goes, but as Cheryl knows, I really love night trains -:)

Free friendly beach dogs were always available in Bodrum

As much as we are still enjoying new experiences in Turkey, we are both getting excited about getting back on the bikes next week and more long distance bike rambles in Northern Europe. We want to cycle the Baltic coast Eurovelo route, but with issues in the region now, it adds some logistical challenges getting past Kaliningrad, as well as questions of the appropriateness of traveling through Poland and other areas dealing with the stresses of refuges and possible energy shortages.

A romantic sunset with my favorite traveler at Fulya Pension, Lake Egidir

Stay tuned and peace to all.

Caution, Turbulence Ahead!

As we enter our second week in Turkey, we have finally adjusted to the time zone, food, and some of the customs of Turkish life; even the complex and nuanced lives of the ubiquitous street cats.

Istanbul’s fantastic car-lite tram streets

Meanwhile the world changes faster everyday. Just as it seems we were looking the worst of the pandemic in the rear view mirror, here comes Putin’s invasion! And now a geopolitical, migration and energy crisis is gripping Europe and rippling through the world. The future is always uncertain, but it feels especially daunting heading into the summer of 2022.

Tram operator‘s view – slightly clearer than the outlook for 2022!

The truth about extended travels is that it is hard sometimes, a fact that travel bloggers and instagramers don’t always highlight between the pretty pictures. For us, returning to the US for a month was a mixed blessing. It was so nice to see friends and family, but at the same time, it brought a bit of angst, especially to me, as I have to fight my strong urge to settle down again. I believe nesting is a basic human instinct, especially as you age…. Luckily, Cheryl is more happy go lucky and able to take the long view better than me, which is one of the reasons our life together works so well -:)

It was invigorating to ride with my friends again in SF

San Francisco was at its finest in April, and after our travels, the fruits of vast prosperity, including high quality food, water, parks, and services really stood out in my mind. Not to mention the spectacular scenery, good weather, and tolerant attitudes. It really is hard to beat. But the very purpose of our extended travels is to break us out of our comfort zone, so we pressed on to Istanbul for the next leg of our adventure. San Francisco, we always miss you:

Dinner with some lovely new friends in Istanbul…your world does get bigger with travel.

We have flown coach the past two transatlantic legs (via TAP), but we managed to use miles for two non-stop business class tickets on Turkish Airways for the 13 hour SFO to Istanbul journey; a worthy investment for the comfort of this 6’-5” carcass. It’s also nice to fly the flagship carrier of any country you are visiting as a bit of the cultural experience can start earlier (even if that culture includes talking loudly while everyone else is trying to sleep-;).

Spring at the Blue Mosque

The service and comfort on the flight was great; but regardless, the 10 hour time shift was pretty harsh! We had forgotten the luxury of the previous 7 months of travel in just a few European time zones, and never trotting around a busy foreign city half zombie like…most of you know the feeling.

Trying new foods to kick the jet lag!

Luckily, a friend and infrastructure colleague in the Bay Area connected us with a local American who has taught and is an administrator at Bachesir Univeristy (BAU) for over 20 years, and is married locally with a child. He gave us a fantastic tour of some of the less touristed neighborhoods, including his home in Kadiköy, a more livable and somewhat hipster neighborhood on the Asian side of the Bosporus. There is no better way to stay awake then to have an energetic local share his local knowledge and insight over 5 miles up and down the hills. Thanks Sean!

Preparing the Kokoreç – lamb intestine wrap. Seasoned offal. 😋

We also landed in Istanbul at the height of Ramadan, which meant locals were out by the thousands (tens of thousands) visiting the city’s beautiful sights and passing the daily fast with family and feasts after sunset. Major holidays are always a mixed blessing when traveling. They can mean that lodging and (especially) transport can be at its limits, but you also get the joy and insight of seeing unique traditions unfold.

All things pickled in Kadaköy

We stayed in the heart of tourist Istanbul of Sultanahmet. Although convenient to the big sites, touts and overpriced restaurants abounded, and it often felt like we were not getting the Istanbul experience we craved. However, it also turned out to be a major destination for local tourists to see the tulips in Gulane Park, or, for the more devout to visit The Hagia Sofia or Blue Mosque.

The Hagia Sofia just before Iftar, the breaking of the fast at sundown during Ramadan

Our hotel also suffered from online ratings bloat, as was ranked near #1 on most booking sites. Just as a “top pick” rating in Lonely Planet used to inflate prices, the hotel did not suit our independent travelers nature. Some people love being doted on night and day, with freebies and gifts, but as long term travelers, we definitely stray towards independence and found it all a bit tedious. And poor Cheryl had to listen to my jet-lagged rants on all the poor design elements and annoyances of the hotel!

The best thing about our hotel in Istanbul was the terrace

If you are staying more than a day or two in Istanbul, then I recommend staying across the Golden Horn in Karaköy or Beşiktaş, or even on the Asian side as the Marmaray raíl can get you to the key sites in 10-15 minutes (or scenic ferries). This is where we will stay when we go back, and I think we will go back. So much still to see.

The lively streets of Beşiktaş

Istanbul is truly unique, and a teeming blend of cultures set on an ancient backdrop. The city is fast paced and hectic, but we enjoyed just diving into the stream of humanity and going with the flow.

Tulip Mania in Istanbul

The public transit is also pretty good, but was very crowded, especially the very useful T1 tram line. Make sure to buy an Istanbul transit card at a major metro or Marmaray rail terminal first and charge it with 50 or 100 Lira. Recharging is easier than buying a card.

Good signage on the Marmaray Rail system opened in 2012
Apparently it took the locals awhile to stop holding their breath under the 8-mile Bosporus Tunnel, since it was built so fast!

We had to ask for help using the quirky machines that sell the plastic cards and often seem to be out of service. But there are always genuinely helpful people all around in Turkey. Just ask. Even if they speak no English, they will still go out of their way to try to help. By the way, you can use one card for multiple people, by tagging them through the turnstiles first. There are turnstiles for the trams as well, as they used a platform pay zone system. Amazingly, we saw no fare dodging anywhere, even when it would be easy at low boarding tram stops.

The Grand Bazaar…go for the building and experience, but not necessarily the quality of the goods.

The trams are also nice new Bombardier built rolling stock, and everything is clean and safe, as is most of the City. The new Marmaray Rail system is an extensive system that runs deep under the Bosporus, and is a crucial link for the mega region of 22 million. The new airport lacks rail service and is way out there, so we took a taxi for about $20 and an hour ride, although there are bus options. Apparently rail is planned, although given Turkey’s financial crisis, it may be an unlikely priority give the distance and cost.

Cheryl on the T2 on the outskirts of Izmir
High Density and Green housing on Izmir’s T2 Tram Line

So after 5 nights in Istanbul, we had to figure out our next move: East towards Ankara and Cappadocia, or down the Aegean coat. As often happens in just in time travels, the transport situation pushed us towards a decision.

Boarding the Ferry in Yenikapi, Istanbul

Turkey has been building a backbone high speed rail network, and it is quite successful, but unfortunately so reasonably priced ($3.50 for 4 1/2 hour trip!) and in demand, that all the trains to Ankara and the east were booked out for 2-3 weeks! Doh!

Boarding the once daily Eylul Express in Bandirma

We thought about flying to Cappadocia, but didn’t want to burn the carbon for our convenience, nor face another hour plus trip back out to the airport in traffic. However, a fast ferry to Bandirma and convenient train connection to Izmir still had tickets. So the lesscarmorelife choice was clear. The slow way to Izmir!

An intermediate stop on the Eylul Express
Basmane Station – Izmir after a scenic and comfortable journey

Izmir is a cosmopolitan city on the Aegean that is the heart of liberal and secular Turkey. We really enjoyed our three days there, and did what we love to do in cities…walked though neighborhoods, wandering and exploring, all served by great tram and ferry links.

Public displays of affection are no problem in liberal Izmir

And again our next move was influenced by transport during the end of Ramadan, and a bit of fate pushing back. Our hotel was walking distance to and from the Basmane train station, and trains continued south, so this was the logical choice; however, we did consider the holiday crowds and thought that renting a car in (as was recommended by many) Izmir could make sense, especially as our flight out of Turkey is from Izmir in 3 weeks.

My lovely travel companion in the sunset light of Izmir

Luckily, the Budget site in Europe would not take our credit cards on booking. (also a problem on the Turkish rail site, so we have had to book at stations). So no car for now and we were off to Selçuk by train for a few days.

Cats and their best friend, the fish monger in Karşıyaka
Great lunch at the mall, our ultimate destination after a 6 mile walk through Karşıyaka-Izmir

One of our mantras is that we see what we see, and don’t fret about what we don’t see. You may see more renting a car or flying, but will you experience more?

First global sighting of a tandem bike share – super cool Izmir!

And Selçuk was a lovely big town of about 30 thousand, where we stayed in a very homey and neighborhood located guest house. Selçuk is one of the gateways to Esephus, but as most people visit by cruise ship shore excursion from Kundasi, Selçuk is more of a travelers town, with a very local and relaxed vibe. More on our visit to follow in the next post.

The Happy Travelers in Selçuk

So we are now in Bodrum, a big coastal city that heaves with summer visitors and is quite busy during the Ramadan holiday, but most locals think the weather and water is a bit too cool to swim yet, the beaches are just nicely populated. Sweet. We have a comfortable apartment for 5 days, and are mixing swimming and sightseeing with laundry, sewing, cooking, and blogging -:)

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.

Not skipping stones.

Happy feet in sandals in Venice. Carnival meant confetti everywhere on the large paving stones.

Most folks don’t think much about the asphalt of the streets and concrete of the sidewalks until it’s not asphalt and concrete, but huge blocks or small chunks of stone. When you look down and see the streets and sidewalks paved with stone, large or small pieces, you picture the process of putting the stones down in the streets. In Italy I was fascinated with the choice of paving materials. Who wouldn’t be? My fascination started in Venice and didn’t stop.

Confetti canal side in Venice.

It wasn’t until we left Venice that I read about the use of lighter colored stones on the edge of the canals and bottoms of steps to alert pedestrians that they are about to step into a canal or tumble off stairs. When I went back to look through my photos, sure enough, there they were. Safety stones.

The edge of the lagoon is obvious in broad daylight, but imagine a dark cloudy night before electric lights. You’d be glad for that strip of white stones.
The black paving stones of Naples. And some well worn hiking boots.

Dark Vesuvian lava blocks pave the older streets of Naples. I assumed the surface was natural, but apparently on some stretches, especially the stairways, the dings and impressions come from hammers and chisels to create a less slippery surface when wet.

Naples paving stones in the rain. They look slick, but the dangerous surfaces were the metal utility/manhole covers.

How could anyone fail to notice the cobblestoned streets of Pompeii and Herculaneum? However, it would be easy to miss the small white stones placed in the joints as cats eyes, or reflectors.

Small, not so noticeable white stones, but helpful on a dark Herculaneum night.
A giant stone jigsaw puzzle leading out of the amphitheater in Pompeii.

After the dark paving stones of Naples the streets of Bari old town were a surprise. Of course people used the local stone, the ‘chianche’ ( the big paving stones) in Bari are mostly white or cream, with black pavers used, apparently, to help merchants unfamiliar with the old town find their way out.

Bari ‘chianche’. And a wet boot.
The light color of the stones in Bari makes a wet night time stroll quite atmospheric.
The stones are a lovely backdrop for the green plants of a resident gardener in Bari. I always appreciate intrepid urban gardeners.
The warm glow of decorative lighting makes Bari magical at night.
The town of Conversano pavers were light colored as well, and a bit slippery when wet. This night time photo was taken as I carefully picked my way along on boots that had the tread worn off from miles and miles of use.
Luminaria, which we saw being created in town, look beautiful against the creamy stone of Conversano.
This kitty knows the stones are very flattering to their coloring, and that Rich is always good for a scritch.

We knew that metal utility covers were slippery, but I hadn’t appreciated how tricky they might be to integrate into paving stones until the town of Alberobello. While most visitors look up at the Trulli, make sure to also look down and admire the paving stones.

The metal utility cover on the left must have taken some time. The stone faced cover, upper right, blends quite well.
Another utility cover, this one set cross wise against the flow of pavers. Oh, and some lovely Trulli.

Rome. Rome. Rome. Where the stones you tread were trodden by Julius Caesar, and marched upon by Roman warriors and enslaved people who were the capital of the empire. Our time traveling in the UK, Morocco, and Italy gave us a good look at the extent of the Roman Empire, but I hadn’t visited Rome before.

The road from the forum to the Colosseum. We arrived early to admire the mostly empty paving stones.
In the Forum. Rich added for scale. Huge pavers.

Apparently, the small cobblestones of Rome’s roads, “sampietrini”, which means “little St. Peters,” are being replaced with asphalt on the main, busy roads. It will make for a quieter and smoother surface for bikes, scooters and trucks. But, the promise from at least one mayor is to move the paving stones to smaller more pedestrian scale streets. It would be fascinating to see the cost benefit analysis of stone versus asphalt. Wear and tear. Re-paving costs. Environmental considerations. Is my inner bureaucrat showing?

A lovely small street in Trastavere. Cobbles intact. They certainly win the charm competition.
The Appian Way. A road built to march armies and supply wagons. Those large stones were the surface, they were laid atop an under layer of gravel, smaller stones and mortar. The surface was smooth, but now it’s a better idea to go around these bits on your bike.

We’re in San Francisco now, catching up with friends and sharing our travel tales. Traveling the world is amazing, but being somewhere familiar, and where we have wonderful friends is rejuvenating.

The Happy Travelers admiring a modern road surface, red bus only lanes on Van Ness Ave in San Francisco.