The Puppet Master

The freewheeling traveling of the past 50 days has been wonderful and certainly made for some memorable times and photos. But to get to this place in our lives has been a lot of work, sacrifice, and always living well within our means (including no car ownership for most of our lives..big money saver.).

Cruising down the Loire is the payoff

In addition, the daily planing behind the scenes has been non-stop (as Cheryl has noted). So much in fact, that my contribution to the blog to date has been minimal. Endless hours on Booking, Trainline, Google Maps, Komoot, and Translate, as well as local and regional tourist sites and even some paper maps for broader planning …first making sure things are manageable, but keeping enough flexibility to see how the day unfolds first…is there a headwind, tailwind or lots of climbing? (the wind is sometimes a bigger deal than hills with 50+ lb and wide panniers!). Food, bakeries, supermarkets, water? Any contingencies with Trains? Did I build in enough time for Cheryl’s cat photo stops?!!

Trains and bikes…mostly a great solution!

The usual pattern is to book a room around lunch time, so we have a good understanding of where we can get….but never trying for ridiculous miles, or really long days, as we always like to have some energy left for exploring the place we stay…we prefer slow-ish bike touring for sure….and always appreciate the luxury and privilege we had to travel this way. (Time, health, and resources, free movement…).

But I’m not looking for sympathy, as I LOVE to travel and route plan almost as much as I love to travel, and the endless unfolding of geography and new stimuli everyday is invigorating. (My Civil Engineering and Anthropology degrees merged perfectly-:). You are often asked, “if there was anything in the world you could today, what would it be?” My answer is exactly what we’ve been doing! (and with Cheryl of course).

An artisan cheese automat down the road in Boëge…in case of a after hours Fromaergency!

We have covered almost 2000km by bike and passed through hundreds and hundreds of villages and cities, including staying in 40 places! Sounds crazy, but it really was slow travel. Off the bikes, our movement will be less, and we are looking forward to that, but there is not much more joy to me than heading out in the cool morning on a loaded bike, waiting to discover where the dirt, cobbled, and paved travel ways will take you that day.

What’s over this hill?

We are now happily transitioning our travels from cycling to onward adventures in the beautiful early autumn of the Vallée Verte, combining some nesting, with relaxing hikes and walks in the surrounding lower alps. Despite our “home-free” status, it has been a joy to return to a familiar place for awhile and we are forever thankful to our friends for allowing us to use their beautiful historic home.

Enjoying lunch, local style.

Cheryl also gets to apply her expertise building daily fires in both the kitchen/dining area and the upstairs parlor, which is providing our core heat for now, as the main pellet central system is waiting for a winter delivery next week. She loves it and she notes her life here parallels the downstairs lives of the servants of Downton Abbey! (Except she dines with the lord of the manor -;)

Typical Vallée Verte cheese source

We have also been sorting and swapping our gear from our master cadre that we brought from San Francisco…again trying to guess what we might need for the next few months away, which includes big city exploring, fall/winter hiking, and likely travels to Morocco prior to seeing family and friends over the holidays in the UK. Most of the bike gear will be resting as we wait for spring in Europe, but we do plan on renting bikes and certainly using bike share in the cities. Ideally gear should be multi-purpose. For example, a rain jacket that is good for hiking and ok for cycling, including some reflective treatments or bright coloring. Waterproofness from head to toe will be key for fall/winter hiking in the UK, but to wear my pavement colored jacket cycling in the dark is not a good solution. We’ll be sure to share some of our favorite travel amd packing hacks as we move into our foot and train mode over the next few months.

Camera ready draft horse on today’s 5-mile hike to the Col de Cou

Our last 7 weeks on the bike have made us reaffirm our mantra for light travels…only bringing what we really need, as well as picking up a few winter items in the UK. You can never have everything with you and you’ll never have the perfect clothes for every activity when traveling light, so you need to accept this, and make tough choices. Fashion usually suffers as well…but a few key purchases or swap outs can make you feel like you haven’t been wearing the same clothes for months. We specifically did NOT buy many new things for our travels, knowing that we may want or need to leave some things behind as we change continents, cultures, and climates. In our last global trip, we bought cold weather gear in Poland as fall approached and then left many of these items to (hopefully) those who needed them in Northern India, as we didn’t want to carry a thick sweater, heavy jacket, or scarf to Southeast Asia. If you do want to keep something that you really love but don’t want to carry, then mailing things back “home” has also worked well for us.

Airing the laundry

The great thing about continuous (“home-free”) travel is that you have the opportunity to continually reinvent yourself and when you get tired or a certain mode or place, switching can reset your mind, focus, and enthusiasm for new experiences. Luckily our minds are opening as the world slowly does too, and we are excited to explore further afield in the coming year! Peace.

What to eat along the way.

Week four of nearly daily cycling means quite a bit of eating and being sure we have plenty of water during the day. Breakfasts are mostly included at the hotels we stay at, so that’s one meal sorted each day.

A typical picnic lunch, but with an actual picnic table. Quite the timely find. Our hedgehog patterned tea towel/tablecloth/napkin, and the striped bag which has bamboo cutlery, a sharp knife, and a corkscrew are picnic necessities.

Our lunches are usually picnic style, with sandwiches purchased at a bakery in the morning. We feel qualified to critic sandwiches by county so far: Switzerland – too much mayo or salad cream or sauce! We resorted to scraping and squeezing excess goop off the sandwiches which were mostly purchased at supermarkets.

Sandwiches on board, ready for de-mayonnaising.

Switzerland doesn’t seem to have the quantity of bakeries we are enjoying in Germany. And, German ready made sandwiches are mostly mayo free. Butter on the bread holds up much better, and cucumber, lettuce, tomato and even a slice of hard boiled egg makes for a very nice lunch. Oh yes, and lovely seeded rolls! German sandwiches get the nod so far.

Apples have been a constant presence in my front bag.
We pick them here.
We pick them there.
The tall guy can pick them anywhere!
These little red ones with very white flesh are my favorite. The green ones with a touch of red are so tart!

Why so many apple trees along the roads? I’m not certain. We only pick from those that are obviously not part of an orchard which is someones living, and I’ve read a few different reasons for why so many apple trees dotting the landscape. Perhaps from 17th century laws requiring grooms to plant oak and apple trees before marrying, maybe the more common sense and practical notion that tree lined roads are lovely and apple trees do well. We also had a week of plums gleaned from trees in villages which were so overloaded they were dropping on the street.

Finding benches in the shade is a never ending quest. Should have removed my wet laundry from the back of my bike before taking this photo.

We have also learned the difficult and squabbling way that we have enough energy after a long day cycling to check in to a hotel, unpack (ie dump panniers upside on the floor), shower, and get drinks and dinner at ONE place. Not drinks at one place and move on to dinner at another – that doesn’t end well for hangry cyclists. Pick a place that meets both needs. Thankfully, Biergartens abound!

This pumpkin soup at a Biergarten in Beilngreis was fantastic.
Why yes, I am about to demolish this huge plate of food.

Stay well fed and carry plenty water, refill water when the opportunity presents itself, and happy pedaling!

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

It was not a long day biking to get here, but some good hill climbs, especially since the town sits on a ridge above the river. Let me amend that, the gorgeous town sits on a big ridge, far above the river.

Viewing the town and saying, oh yes, it is on a hill.
Rich riding through the tourists into town.
To our super cute hotel.

On the advice of Rick Steves, we went to view the alter carvings and paintings at St. Jakob’s church. St. Jakob is St. James, as in Camino de Santiago, or St. James’ Way.

St. James is the one with the scallop shell on his hat. Rich is the one with the mask on his face.
Statue outside the church. I’m not sure if this represents a pilgrim, or St. James himself.
His scallop shell and a finger shiny from being touched. (Yes, we did all the ‘pull my finger’ jokes.)
Camino markers outside the church. It is 2,102 kilometers or 1,300 miles to Santiago.

Rothenburg is one of three walled towns in Germany with an intact wall. And the town itself was spared from being too badly bombed during WWII by a quickly arranged surrender. The throngs of tourists attest to the charming nature of this town. The wall is amazing to walk, and our after dinner wall walk was thankfully quite free of thronging tourists.

Captivating views from the wall.
We were quite far along before I realized that Rich literally has his head in the rafters and has to bend down to see what shorter me sees.

We also took Rick Steves’ advice to skip the Schneeballen, the local pasty, but after a nice breakfast I did take some photos as we rolled out of town.

Breakfast with a view down into The Valley.
Closed up the morning we rolled out.
Couldn’t resist some photos.
Pasty dough deep fried is how it was described. I’m sure it’s delicious though.

The ride out of town to our next destination, Schwäbisch Hall, was 70k and three river valleys. But I didn’t think about the long day ahead as we rode over cobblestones to leave Rothenburg. Happy Pedaling.

Happy cyclist.
Ready to roll.
Stop for map check under the wall.

How to get off the tourist track.

Step 1. Bike tour. You end up staying places that are not A list, ones with no big attractions but lovely people and normal settings where you might be only tourists, and folks in the bakery will be interested in what the heck these two Americans with not great German language skills are doing here.

I should have started my series of amusing fountains in town squares earlier, but here we go.

Step 2. TrustedHousesitters.com Check it out. You meet wonderful people and pets and spend time living a bit like a local.

The goose herder?

You get to go for walks on well signed local trails to beer gardens.

Squirrel trail? Sign me up!
That lower right sign is the beer tour route.
My own little bottle of wine with lunch.
Rich and a yummy Keller beer, at yet another beer garden. They are the perfect pandemic place to go and we seek them out.
Our sweet little charge, thank you to her for being the best little cat and to her human companions for choosing us to keep her company.
She loves to drink out of a proper glass. I love to watch. Cat tongues are fascinating.

Two days off the bikes and we head off today to Bad Windsheim, a pretty short ride, where there is both a thermal bath, one of Rich’s favorite things, and an open air history museum- one of my favorite things.

Happy pedaling!

From a few days ago, fall is in the air and beware- you may see socks being worn with these sandals very soon.

A town you’ve likely seen, but may not realize. Nördlingen, Germany.

It’s our second visit to Nördlingen, the first was six years ago on our broken collarbone trip (me, 3 days into a 3 week trip), on that trip we were taking trains and had left our bikes in München. This time we biked to this walled town which is situated in a much larger crater left by a meteorite millions of years ago. The wall is a huge draw for us. It’s a very unique and cozy attraction. We spent two nights here this time.

The wall walk combines some of my favorite things, car free walks, garden peeping, and house peeping.
Really a unique experience to walk the intact wall. One spot had repairs being done, but the rest was walkable.
There are houses whose back walls are the town wall, or which are built through the wall.
Ah, the glamorous side of bike touring. Resting in the shade of a town WC. It was a long hot day riding to Nördlingen.

Between the wall and its history, and a local train museum, we had plenty to do on our rest day.

We saw this museum across the train platform the last time we were here but didn’t have time to check it out.
Rich added for scale, Rich is six foot five. That is a huge piece of machinery.
So many historic train locomotives and cars are just sitting on the rails, reminding us of the history of train travel. And the human capacity for innovation.
Some are simply falling into decay.
But many are lovingly housed and maintained. This is the roundhouse.
Yes there was wine, my first Silvaner of the trip.
And our first brats. This little place was set up during the Saturday market and had a line when we saw it, we quickly got in line. About 2 minutes after we got our lunch they sold out and closed up.

So where have you likely seen this charming town? In the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971, the Wonkavator flies above the town in the final scene as it crashes out of the factory roof – remember?

If you saw the movie you likely remember a shot like this from the glass elevator.

A little forgotten history, and a push to include women in museums.

We’re in Zermatt, Switzerland, which is famous for skiing, being car free, and the Matterhorn. OK, that car free part might only be relevant to some for its fame, but it was a big reason why we came here.

Golden hour selfie with the Matterhorn being imposing in the background.

Who reads in room magazines at their hotel? Me! Zermatt Magazine has a super interesting article about the first woman to go up, and summit the Matterhorn – get ready, it’s earlier than you might think. And, like much of women’s history, kind of sort of ignored a bit.

This plaque was placed on the Zermatter Walk of Climb in …. 2019. A bit late, thinks me.
This plaque outside the Zermatt museum is a bit misleading, An Italian woman came close to summiting in 1867.

Per the excellent hotel magazine article (I’m a big fan of airline magazines too.), an 18 year old Italian woman, Félicité Carrel was the first woman to attempt to summit but had to turn back 100 meters from the summit as the wind came up, caught her wide skirts, and almost blew her off the mountain. Take a moment and imagine that, climbing in skirts- big skirts.

This American climber got there a bit late, the British climber Walker heard she was on her way to Zermatt and quickly got her team in place to try for, and reach, the summit.

Did I care about mountain climbing women before reading this article? No. Had I even thought about when women started mountaineering in the Alps? No again. But I made a point of going to find the plaques on the street and visiting the Zermatt museum because of the article.

The museum is trying to address the fact that women have been left out of so much cataloging of history. These orange signs were a new addition, reminding visitors that there were women and they were not included in the official accounts.

There’s Lucy Walker, on the right – the one in the dress. Bad photo, sorry.
These orange placards alerted you to a bit of missing history.

Oh yes, the excellent article by Thomas Rieder also points out that that the woman from Liverpool, Ms Lucy Walker, summited the Matterhorn only six years after the first ascent by Edward Whymper and team. Read that and think about Mt. Everest which took 22 years for a woman, Junko Tabei from Japan, to follow the first summit of Hillary/Norgay in 1953.

The American climber Brevoort, photo from Wikipedia.

I get overwhelmed just looking at that mountain and imagining climbing it. But I am so grateful to this excellent opportunity to add meaning to our visit here. Hotel room magazines for the win. Museums for the win, and adding women back into history as a goal.

The mountain has more meaning for me now. It’s not just a beautiful background.

Off we roll!

It’s not often I’m ahead of Rich on a climb (we had just taken a break and I requested he stay back for a photo.).

And we’re off on our touring bikes at last. After watching so many bike touring vlogs during the pandemic we’ve been itching to ride. We spent our first night at Evian-les-Bains, after a moderate climb to col de Moises followed by a long long long downhill to Lac Léman.

I’m very glad we came down, the climb from the lake up to col de Cou looked brutal. Rich looks like he was wishing to go up. The man loves climbing.
Crossing the Rhone river on our way to Montreaux.

The ride from Evian-les-Bains was lovely in parts, and needing improvements in parts. A few stretches you would not recommend for a novice cyclist, although the French drivers are very good around bikes.

On a recently built stretch of the route, a trail next to an unused rail line.

Our second stop is Montreaux- we’re spending two nights here, yes, it’s a rest day already. And it’s our 24th wedding anniversary. This a perfect lovely romantic place to spend two nights. We’ve walked the promenade, we took a train up into the hills behind town and walked down to find the most atmospheric restaurant ever for lunch.

On the train winding up the mountain.
Masks: a new addition to train station vending machines.
And walking down.

A lot of good travel advice starts with “walk away from the tourist areas…” We did, and had a great but steep walk back down towards town.

Perfect walking weather, cloudy and mild.

The route took us by perhaps the cutest, most atmospheric restaurant ever. It was lunch time. We were hungry.

Nestled into a little nook. No view of the lake but so cozy.
The tables were lined up along a public water fountain.
With constantly running taps.

As we sat waiting for lunch we wondered if the water was potable? We’ve seen a number of taps in villages and mountain trails labeled as non potable, but this one had no label. Well, potable or not, still one of the cutest restaurants ever, we agreed.

It didn’t take long for the first local to stop by to fill a bottle.
And another local. Must be potable – or good for plants?
And then our waiter, behind Rich in the green shirt, filled a carafe for our table. Question answered -potable and tasty.

Next on our agenda today is a swim in the lake and then tomorrow we’re off up the Rhone Valley, EuroVelo Route 17. There will be wineries.

Lunch time on Mont Forchant

We continued to relax and recoup in the beautiful Vallée Verte by setting out and exploring by foot from our home base, soaking in the endless connected footpaths, trails, and rural roads of France. Our goal yesterday was Mont Forchant, a 1500m peak at the head of the valley known for steep approaches and rewarding views.

Headed up valley

We could have driven to a trailhead and and made an easy two hour peak bag, but what fun is that? So we walked about 10 miles up into the wooded paths with over 2,000 feet of climbing! By walking, we got to stroll through two small villages and lots of rural pleasantness.

Roads plenty quiet to walk
The final push to the summit

So we were hopeful of promised views on Mont Blanc in the distance, but alas, the clouds were still thick on this typical summer day. But it at least cleared enough to see down the valley, and the the clouds made for cooler hiking.

Gazpacho and sándwiches on Mont Forchant

And this being France in August, there was plenty of company at the summit, all enjoying their leisurely picnic lunches. We relished the background buzz of French around us, as it seems this was a locals only place today, along with two very happy Americans.

Walking our way out of jet lag.

We arrived in France to the best welcome any traveler can have: friends meeting you at the airport. With all of our bags and two boxed bikes in tow we arrived to a lovely meal, wonderful friends to catch up with, and finally sleep. Thank you so much Erik and Hannah.

Waiting for the bikes at oversized baggage in Geneva airport.

We have been following our own tried and true jet lag recovery strategy; no naps, power through on local time, and most importantly, get out in the sunshine and exercise. It helps reset your internal clock.

At the Pointe de la Jonction in Geneva, where two rivers of different color meet and mix, the Rhone and the Arve.
Rich and the Rhone.

We went to Geneva so Rich could visit a dentist (all is well), and a friend of a friend took us on a fantastic walk – thank you Jenny! How wonderful it is to have a local show you around. She skipped the tourist spots and took us down the river. We eventually had a lovely lunch with her and her husband, another Richard, also a tall cyclist. Hearing him talk about cycling made Rich wish he had his road bike here.

Our little stroll to the bakery.

The next day a stroll to a local bakery turned into a longer walk and lunch out. It feels so refreshing to be walking and seeing new things. We certainly love San Francisco and it is a unique and wonderful city, but after pandemic lockdown and shelter in place it’s great to be somewhere new.

A lavoir. These public wash basins were built from the 17th to early 20th century.
Farms and cows and fantastic cheeses.

Since we walked further than planned we stopped for lunch out. our first meal out in France. We were shocked and delighted that the vaccine QR code issued by the State of California worked for the French QR code reader. You must be vaccinated to eat at restaurants. We had our vaccine cards ready but happily didn’t need them. What joy when systems work!

Cow bells hanging from the eaves.

Breaking it Down to the Wire!

So the last week had been intense, with so many goodbyes and experiences in our great little neighborhood of Broderick Street in the heart of San Francisco. But the primary focus on has been getting our final items to storage, clearing out every last thing out of the flat…and oh yeah, packing for a (hopefully) long international adventure!

The staging room – ready to pack!
Magic – it all fit!

The last day had one more trip to storage, a trip to drop our luggage at friends in Redwood City, and finally putting the last items out on the curb and closing our door to our beloved flat for the last time 🥲.

So empty
Goodbye Ladybugs

But then off to Redwood City by bike and train 😀 it felt so appropriate for our lives in SF

Feeling Free riding out of SF!
Former Caltrain Board member ready to roll
Celebratory Beers on Caltrain tasted SO good!!

So it’s all hard to believe that all the prep of the past 18 months finally starting to pay off and we are actually on our way to Europe! We’re at SFO now and ready to board our flights to Geneva via Lisbon! The haze of the pandemic still doesn’t make this feel real. Will Europe still be there? Can we enjoy the high points of travel during a pandemic? This has not been easy my friends, but we are doing it: and we’re glad that we can share it all with our great friends….some even in person.

Next Time – the logistics – getting by with a lot of help from our friends!