Our race across the Netherlands – by bike.

The best kind of photobombing. A happy cyclist behind a happy cyclist. The gorgeous bike parking garage in downtown Groningen evokes these feelings.

This was our second time cycle touring in the Netherlands, our first was in 2017. This felt different because we were on a longer cycle trip, and we had just come from countries widely considered to be cycling heavens – Germany, Sweden, and Denmark.

The all green for cyclists signal phase in Groningen. Fun to ride.

We were quickly reminded of why the Netherlands is still the gold standard for cyclists around the world. We needed to run a few errands while in Groningen for two nights, and those errands took us out to big box store land (A big cycling store, of course.). It was a breeze, a joy, to cycle there on wonderful protected cycle tracks. Almost no stop signs and maybe one or two traffic signals. The traffic flow was controlled with yield symbols which allowed for such seamless cycling. It was so fun to note that people on bikes are separated from people driving cars by space in so many situations. Underpasses for bikes. Bridges for bikes. Wide wide lanes where we could ride two abreast and chat and other people on bikes could easily pass us. If you’ve ever tried to cycle to big box store territory in the US you will understand our delight.

Enjoying a Groningen evening with drinks and the parade of people on bikes.

But our ferry reservation to the UK from the Hook of Holland (Hoek Van Holland) beckoned. We needed to get on our bikes and enjoy the riding. Quite a bit of riding to make the ferry. We could have taken a train hop, but the riding was so nice. And it’s flat in the Netherlands we said, right?

So off we went. Towards Zwolle.

Flat is nice, and easy in theory. And usually in reality. But with headwinds and crosswinds the flat kilometers start to hurt. 115 kilometers from Groningen to Zwolle, on loaded bikes, was a long day. I realized why I don’t have many photos from Zwolle. Too tired. And it was pretty warm weather so that takes it out of you too. Flat kilometers mean you stay in the same riding position a lot, and don’t get the hill climbing up and coasting down break for your legs. And as Rich’s cycling buddies is SF will attest, he is much happier on hills!

Warm enough that I switched to my hat from my helmet. I love that it feels so safe in the Netherlands that I can do that.
Signage along the National route we took.
So much of the route was completely car free. And a lot was asphalt free as well.
Way finding is still necessary though. Rich mixes in some Komoot routing. Shaded spots to stop were very welcome.
Ah… finally Zwolle.

When you get to your destination, you check in to the hotel, shower, and then head back out to get dinner. With a tight time line this was a one night stop, so the walk to and from dinner is your chance to sightsee in town.

Kitty wants back inside.

Up at 7:00, hotel breakfast, pack up, and back on the bikes! Next stop, Amersfoort, 92 kilometers away. It’s not fair to say we don’t get a chance to sightsee since we are sightseeing all day as we ride. And riding from town to town lets you appreciate what distances felt like pre automobile. You understand how separated places were in the days when walking, horse drawn conveyances, and canal boats ruled the landscape.

Leaving Zwolle, another physical separation of bikes and other modes.
A ferry just for bikes and pedestrians across the river IJssel.
On a long hot day sometimes the only thing that sounds good is cold chocolate milk!
Still smiling.
Big guy and a big bike.

Amersfoort was a logical place to stop for a night. It’s unlikely I could have gone much further in a day. It’s also a beautiful place to stop. There is a lot to be said for intensive travel planning, but the surprise of not knowing much about where you’re stopping, and finding it to be so beautiful, is like an unexpected gift. Instead of looking for the city you saw depicted in your research, you have a surprise around every turn.

Where are we? This is beautiful. Is what I said as we walked into the old part of the city.
Although we were both tired after supper we had to keep walking around.
And keep walking. Ahhh…Amersfoort.

Up again, breakfast again, on the bikes again. Today would take us through Utrecht and on to The Hague. Only 82 kilometers. In most countries the idea of riding through a major city and out the other side would be daunting. But this is the Netherlands.

Even animals get their own safe pathways across the roads. This is one of two wildlife overpasses we rode under while crossing the Panbos National Forest.
A quick stop to pick up lunch in Utrecht.
And across and out of Utrecht we go. With many other people on bikes.
Infrastructure like this makes cycling such a popular and valid way to travel. You truly feel seen and cared for as a person on a bike.
And on towards Den Hague we go.
Summer cycling sights.

Although we only slept one night in The Hague, our ferry didn’t start boarding until 7pm for a 10pm departure. So we had a full day for a museum visit and buying replacement panniers for me, my old ones having failed and no chance of getting them repaired before we left town. I left them at a bike shop who said they would repair and put them to good use and we pulled out of town around 4pm to ride the 28 kilometers to the ferry terminal. A good travel tip for transition days is to stay at a nice hotel, if you can. The staff at the Mövenpick Hotel were super helpful and we left our bikes and bags after checkout, visited the Mauritshuis Museum, and then picked up just the bikes and set out to get a new set of Ortlieb panniers for me. Back to the hotel, unpack and pack panniers, drop off old panniers and head out to the ferry.

On the way to the ferry.
The lovely cycle track heading to the ferry.
Seriously nice infrastructure all the way to the ship, which you can see to the left of the happy travel planner. We made it! And no one had an emotional breakdown by the side of the cycle track (that would have been me.).
Very smart ferry company. Sure, get on hours before we set out and enjoy a few drinks and dinner!

Watch for an all ferry post in the future, we have three more bike/ferry trips planned – it’s not only how we avoid flying, but also so much easier with bicycles. And for parents with small children it appears. Load the car with kids and your gear and then have fun on the ship while you cross to the UK.

The happy travelers on the ferry boat to Harwich.

This concludes our self imposed race across the Netherlands. We’re glad we didn’t miss a single kilometer of this over 300km ride in cycling nirvana.

Cycling in Sweden was a joy. A few reasons why.

I’ll start with the obvious, a reason every visitor to Sweden, no matter your mode or destination, will see and appreciate. Beautiful scenery.

At every turn you are greeted with lovely sights. Cozy houses, gorgeous landscapes, so many beaches.

Traveling by bike gives you the opportunity to slow down, stop, take photos, or just take a moment to enjoy what you’re seeing as you pedal along.

The top of a climb. Taking a well deserved break and a photo.
Malmö looking lovely on a grey day. Check out that double articulated bus in bright green livery. Very eye catching.
The ponies are curious and glamorous.

My second reason for loving the cycling in Sweden is the signage. Although we thought the National Route signs could have been a bit brighter, larger, and have a branded identity, the route was well signed and usually easy to follow.

We were following the National Route 1, Kattegattleden.
Typical route signage.
Into a wooded bit, the sign assures you that you are going the correct way.

My final reason is really a lot of reasons which I will file under amenities. When you’re bike touring you have needs that are pretty immediate, if you haven’t planned well it’s easy to get caught out. Hungry bordering on hangry and no town for miles and miles? Hope you bought some food for the day. Running low on water? Fingers crossed for a tap, or restroom, or friendly homeowner. Exhausted and need to just get off the dang bike and sit for a while? Benches please. Sweden rose to the challenge of all these needs, beautifully.

Picnic table with a view.
Alcohol free grapefruit Radler with our healthy lunch purchased in the town before. Shops had good food choices for picnics.
We loved all the little honor farms stands. We’d stop and get our Google translate on to figure out what was on offer.
Bathrooms! Although I am not at all shy about nature breaks it’s certainly nice to have tables, restrooms, and potable water in one spot. And a good opportunity to chat with other cyclists.
Another bench with a view. Sweden might be the most benched country we’ve cycled in so far. It’s such an appreciated amenity.
When you pass one of these.
You want one of these. (The wonderful partner, the pastry, and the bench.)
We do sit on the ground, especially when a fabulous view requires a climb up a sand dune.
But nothing beats relaxing in chairs put out by wonderful locals in the perfect view spot.

Sweden, thank you for bringing your absolute A game to cycle touring amenities. Things we’ll remember for our next trip: check the hours of the state run liquor stores, systembolaget. They are closed on Sunday and can get busy Saturday afternoon. Buy more alcohol free grapefruit Radlers, delicious and a perfect lunch accompaniment. And always stop at a bench for a break, a snack, or just to enjoy the view.

The happy travelers in Höganäs. We went for a swim off that boardwalk the next morning- another fantastic thing about summer cycling in Sweden – swimming.

So much more to tell about cycling in different countries. As we slow down a bit in the next month or two, and he’s not scrambling to travel plan each day, Rich will be able to write an informative deep dive into bike touring and the highs and lows of each county we rode in. Until then – enjoy your summer.

Bornholm Island by bicycle. Danish paradise?

The rocky east coast was beautiful day and night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The happy travelers in Nexø, enjoying a late sunset.

Fueled by pastry.

We have a rule when cycle touring that we don’t take a pastry break until 20k/12miles into our day of riding. And then it may take some kilometers to find the exact right spot to take a break. We try to stop at a bakery in the town where we slept, or the next town, so we hit the bakery when they have a good selection of treats and sandwiches. I usually fill my Kleen Kanteen thermos with tea, and we’re ready for our pastry break.

Apple Strudel for Rich in Erlensee bei Erlensee.
And my absolute German favorite, Quarktasche. Cheese pocket. Some might call it a cheese Danish but to me it’s heaven. This is a rolled, or snail, version.

We could call it elevenses, with our American habit of adopting things from other cultures we have embraced the British elevenses, but we’re sometimes earlier than 11:00. Second breakfast also works to describe this break.

Rhubarb crumble at Auenverbund Kinzig.
I’m always a bit too overwhelmed and panicked in the bakery to snap a picture of the actual name of the pastry, but I know enough about baked goods to usually figure it out. Sometimes with help from friends.

We take turns going into the bakeries and procuring food. One of us stays with the bikes and one braves the bakery. It can be stressful if it’s busy, but usually the women behind the counters are helpful and patient.

Our bikes waiting to see what pastry will emerge this time. Pastry shop in Bad-Hersfeld, Germany.
This! One of the best impulse buys. Poppyseed filling, a seam of marzipan, and the dough a rich cross between yeast and butter. I knew it was good because the bakery had trays and trays of it, and everyone ahead of me in line bought some.
Close up. Hersfeld-Rotenburg. 20k into our ride.
That looks says ‘Quit taking photos so I can eat this!’
Plum pastry.
Look at how huge this pastry is! It took us two days to finish it off. That filling is a butter cream, between two cookie like layers, topped with streusel.
After we started eating it we realized it is probably intended to be a shared dessert. Probably for a family of five! We sat in a city park in Altriesa.

I think I found the name of it in a streusal cookbook by the checkout line at the grocery store: Streuseltaler, or Streuseltielchen.

Pastry breaks aren’t always on cycling days. On a rest day in Dresden we actually sat at a cafe for coffee, tea, and Black Forest cake.
All pastry breaks are eagerly anticipated, and Rich waits patiently for me to stop snapping photos.
Train pastry break. With the 9€ monthly train passes in Germany this summer we happily took train hops.
Cherry Streusel.
This fantastic bakery on Bornholm Island was a hit. Svaneke Brød in Svaneke.
A cardamom bun and a heavenly chocolate roll.
Chocolate roll for the win!
And this seeded load of sourdough which we were still eating two days later.
One more photo of the amazing chocolate roll.

Our mornings always start with the bakery and lunch discussion. Where to stop, when to stop. We always err on the side of stopping at the one in town unless there seems to be a better bakery up the road, and in Allinge on Bornholm Island we stopped in town which was very busy with Folkemødet 2022 starting.

Bakery stop, Rich went in and I stayed with the bikes.

Folkemødet, The People’s Meeting, in Allinge is Denmark’s festival about society’s opportunities and challenges. It made for a very busy town, Island actually, and was fun to see the set up and the people arriving. But, back to pastries, and elevenses.

Do we always find a picturesque bench for pastry? Usually. We do sometimes ride on for miles and miles searching for a good spot to stop.
Raspberry filled Danish.
Cinnamon bun in Denmark.
Rest day in Malmo, Sweden and a kanelbulle in the park. Cinnamon bun in Swedish.
Another Swedish pastry break.
At another fantastic location on the coast on Sweden’s National route #1.

Yes, there is more to cycle touring than eating yummy baked goods. There are hours of cycling, head winds, tail winds, the occasional mechanical issue and a small slow speed tumble – me. Too many pastries maybe? Only a small bruise. We’re now in Copenhagen for a week and will, for the first time, see a stage of the Tour de France. The first stage is in Copenhagen this year. We’re also excited to get our bikes tuned up for the first time in two years. The supply chain issues seems to have cleared up, and the shop we stopped by here in Copenhagen said, sure no problem, we can do it in a day. Music to our ears. More posts soon, with more riding.

The happy travelers enjoying the summer and summer blooms.

Germany. Sweden. Denmark. Sweden.

If it sounds like we can’t make up our minds where to go, that’s partially correct. We took a train from Dresden to Rostock, planning on staying somewhere out of Rostock and closer to where we planned on catching a ferry to Sweden.

Our first glimpse of the Baltic Coast from Graal-Müritz.

We rolled into Graal-Müritz pretty late in the day, but with plenty of sunlight. It is a popular vacation destination for the eastern part of Germany, and we again felt like the only Americans in town. It’s fun to see the surprised reactions from people when we say we’re from California – what are you doing here? As confirmed by German friends, most Americans visit Berlin, Munich, maybe Frankfurt or Hamburg, but rarely make it to the smaller destinations. That is one of our favorite things about bike touring, staying in the small places, being the only foreign tourists.

Enjoying the late sunset on the beach at Graal-Müritz.
Admiring the view as we ride towards Stralsund.
Heading out through the coastal forest, if you keep moving the mosquitoes can’t catch you.

Our ride to Stralsund was 94 kilometers, one of our longer days. With so much daylight, it’s not as daunting to agree to a long day. You know there is time to take loads of breaks. The tailwind helped a lot too.

The wind turbines help you see which way the wind is blowing.
This is what you want. The turbine facing the same direction you’re heading. Tailwind!
Cookie cabana break time. Oh, this is too nice, too easy. Cue ominous music.

We were only about 20k from Stralsund when my right shifter, for the rear chainrings, broke. Suddenly I’m riding a single speed bike loaded with gear. Rich managed to get me into a more realistic gear in the back and we limped to town. Now begins the strategizing and planning on how and where to get my bike fixed. Oh, did I mention it was Saturday afternoon when my bike broke? And we know that nothing is open on Sunday. No bike shops, barely any grocery stores. Now what? Stay in Stralsund for two nights and hope the not very encouraging looking bike shop can fix my bike?

German trains for the win again! With our 9 euro monthly tickets it’s an easy decision to catch the train to Sassnitz, which is we plan to catch the ferry to Sweden.

We took the train to Sassnitz on Sunday where a bike shop fixed my broken shifter on Monday morning, which allowed us to catch the Tuesday morning ferry to Sweden. And, gave us a bonus day in Sassnitz to hike the UNESCO listed beech forest and amazing chalk cliffs.

Jasmund National Park. Beech forest.
Chalk cliffs.
Fun with chalk at our beach lunch break.
Chalk 2022!
The forest is so peaceful and beautiful.
With opportunities to be silly.
Our hike day was a good reminder to mix up activities. After two weeks of cycling we both felt like hiking was so so hard. Really harder than it should have been.
Picnic dinner in our hotel garden, relief at having a working bike again!

So what do you do on a two hour ferry ride? I read. We have tea and pastries. And Rich travel plans, since we got on the ferry knowing only where it landed in Sweden. Ystad. Rich was still deciding where to go next. We had gotten a recommendation from a friend to go to Bornholm Island. Beautiful and great cycling, he said.

Securing the bikes on the car deck of the ferry.
It was an early morning to ride 9k to get to the 8:00 am ferry. Caffeine and food was welcome. This was about 20 minutes before Rich said, hey, let’s catch the ferry from Ystad, Sweden to Bornholm Island, Denmark.

The second ferry left about ten minutes after the first arrived, so if we hustled off and rode fast around the corner we could spend only ten minutes in Sweden before leaving again. Assuming we could find the second ferry and get on in time. We did. The ramp was pulled up just after we and two other cyclists rolled onto the ferry. Phew. It feels good when it works out.

Waiting to disembark on Bornholm Island.
The happy travelers on Bornholm Island.

More on Bornholm Island next time.

Shifting Gears in Saxony

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

On the Elbe river valley north of Dresden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did we mention how friendly the ducks are?

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

The glamorous life of cycle touring in Eisenach

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

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

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

You must be this tall to fight in medieval war

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A rare sight in Alaunpark, Dresden

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we’re back on wheels!

After seven months of backpack travel we’re reunited with our touring bikes. Izmir, Turkey to Geneva, Switzerland was another one of those dislocating travel days. We’re super lucky to have a place to land in France, very good and generous friends who allow us to leave our bikes and extra bags at their place, so the switch from Turkey to a mountain side French village was a known and comforting destination.

Picnic spots of the world. Did we sit a bit too close to an anthill? Yes.

The lush green views were a big change from the blue waters and Mediterranean climate of Turkey as well. We hit peak spring in France. So green. Flowers blooming, bees buzzing, ants crawling. We dusted off our bikes and went for a ride up the valley to make sure everything still worked, both on the bikes and our bodies.

Yup. Still love to cycle.

Then the tougher part. Where to next? Our original plan had been to ride the Baltic Coast but the war in Ukraine made us decide that getting around Kaliningrad was a bit too difficult for the time frame we have. So we’ll save that for another year.

The hard work of travel planning.

After a fantastic week in France we headed to the Geneva train station to catch a train. It’s nice to start off with a lovely long downhill ride.

Heading out. Thank you EA for the photo and the escort down The Valley.
Our local guide for the down the valley ride.

But where? You’re still asking. Where are you going?

At the train station in Geneva.
A fountain in Basel, Switzerland.

The first train took us to Basel, Switzerland. We had a nice evening and morning walking around and enjoying the city and then a second train took us to Mainz, Germany.

A nice cafe and pizzeria by the train tracks in Basel.
Beer AND trains? Yes please.
Anticipating the train boarding scramble. Most trains have a few steps up, which means taking off bags before lifting the bikes up. With only a few minutes to accomplish we have a system.

The worst train boarding is when you don’t know where the bike storage space is. This is when you find yourself trotting down the platform wheeling your bike in a bit of a panic. Thankfully German and Swiss train apps let you know where the bike storage is. So, the only scramble is getting the bikes and bags on the train. Rich does the bike lifting and I do the bag lifting. One final count of bags every time we get on or off a train, and we settle in.

Bikes in the background, lunch, and a book on my Kindle. Set for this train ride.

From Mainz we’re riding East/Northeast towards Dresden and towards the German Polish border. That’s the scenario for now. As we all know, plans are never set in stone. I always need a few days cycling to convince myself I can still do this. Get on the loaded bike day after day and turn the pedals over, cranking out the miles. The first day’s euphoria turns into the second day’s tiredness, and the third day’s exhaustion.

The happy bikers on the Main river path. Day three.

But with my best travel companion in front of me (I draft behind him shamelessly), I push through the tired cranky afternoons and know that the pedaling legs will come back. More fun cycle touring to come.

We came, we saw, we ate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ancient sites and a cozy neighborhood.

Like many tourists/travelers, we really enjoy visiting places that are not so clearly tourist attractions. Selçuk is one of those, the town nearest to Ephesus, a 10th century BC settlement. What, you ask? Ephesus is obviously a big attraction, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015, with impressive ruins and ongoing archeological work. How is that not a tourist place? All right, it is. But these days many of the visitors seem to arrive for the day, bused in off a cruise ship.

Once again we timed our visit to have some alone time in the ruins.

The town of Selçuk is charming. Some of the cruise ship buses do stop at the Archeological Museum in town, where you can view the most impressive treasures uncovered at Ephesus, but the town itself is a lovely, relaxed, and friendly place and once again we felt like the only non Turkish tourists in town.

Rich at the upper gate of Ephesus. See, this look says – no one else here yet.
Looking up the main road of Ephesus. I am always fascinated by the paving stones. Some of these bore the initials of the workers who laid them in place.
Rich walking down the main road of Ephesus. The harbor used to be very close, but as it silted up the town struggled and eventually failed.
Quickly waylaid by a friendly Turkish cat.
The Library of Celsus, the most recognizable and amazing structure of the site.

The trick to having this site to ourselves was actually setting an alarm clock (something we rarely do these days), arranging for a quick 7:30 am breakfast at our hotel, and being in a pre arranged taxi at 8:00. The taxi dropped us at the upper gate, and with our tickets already bought at the museum the day before, the Selçuk Pass, good at four sites and well worth the price, we waltzed right in to an empty experience. Empty for about an hour, then a few others started to arrive.

The terrace houses. We were equally impressed with the amazingly engineered shelter over the houses.
Plexiglass walkways and a roof to keep the rain and sun off the terrace houses. I’m sure the grad students who are painstakingly piecing together walls and floors appreciate it too.
The amphitheater. Capable of holding 21,000 spectators.
Amphitheater greeter kitty.
Green hills and blooming poppies made for a lovely and slightly heart wrenching view. How terrible it must have been to give up this city.

About two 1/2 hours later as we headed to the lower gate to walk the 3 km back into town, the cruise ship buses had started to arrive. Perfect timing.

Happy travelers in Ephesus.
The travel planner enjoys his well executed plan.

Selçuk has a neighborhood charm we hadn’t experienced yet in Turkey, having only been to big cities before this stop. After returning from an outing earlier than expected, our innkeeper was out running an errand and not there to let us in. Seeing our plight, a neighbor quickly walked over with the innkeepers number already dialed on his cell phone to help us out.

One of the 15 cats adopted and cared for by our hotel host, this one blind, greeting a neighbor.

We slept through it our first night, but on our second we heard the drummer who walks the town beating their drum to wake residents for their “sahur” meal, the first meal of the day eaten before observing the fast of Ramadan. And that night we saw dozens of tables set up in the street so neighbors could share iftar, the meal that breaks the fast.

Storks nesting on the ruins of the aqueduct in Selçuk.

The white storks are referred to as pilgrim birds in Turkey, and one man told us you can set your calendar for the date of their return in March each year. The 15th, he claimed. Always the 15th.

You see the big stork nest cages around town, giving the pilgrim birds a spot to build a nest which can weigh up to 250 kilos/500 pounds.
The top of this mosque will do for these stork parents.
Şirince is known as the ‘Greek village’ about 8 kms from Selçuk.

Our host dropped us off for a lovely walk around Şirince. Although its main street is mostly catering to day trippers, once you walk above town it’s rural rhythms quickly reveal themselves and a frequently running mini bus took us back to town.

Getting the goats home in the afternoon.

On our last morning with one final site on our Selçuk museum pass, and an 11:45 am bus to catch, we walked up above our hotel to the Castle and the Basilica of St. John – a 6th century site which is the believed burial location of John the Apostle. Once again arriving early we had the site to ourselves – well, us and quite a few cats enjoying their breakfast, provided by one of the groundskeepers.

A very common sight, communal cat breakfast.
The model of the Basilica gives you detail of what you’re seeing.
The size of the Basilica, and the amount of carved marble, is amazing.
Heading to the castle, past what we called grad student alley. Piecing together even some of these fragments would take an entire career.
One town, four amazing attractions.
From castle hill looking towards Ephesus.
Off to catch that bus. Quick detour through the Saturday market.
Bus snacks being acquired.

We considered staying longer in Selçuk, but the coast and swimming beckoned. After some holiday traffic induced bus stress, and some luck with a bus connection, we made it to Bodrum to enjoy the holiday ending Ramadan, the three-day Ramadan Bayram, also known as Eid al-Fitr. More on Bodrum in our next post.

The happy travelers looking forward to more of what Turkey has to offer.

The Las Vegas I didn’t know.

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

The fountains at the Bellagio. Reliable free fun.

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

Escalator to heaven?

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

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

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

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

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

Family time!
The men in blue.

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

Rich with a Chihuly backdrop.
The happy travelers.

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