Being tourists in our own country.

We remind ourselves frequently how fortunate we are. There are bumps along the road of constant travel, but when you get to wake up somewhere new and look around with fresh eyes, with no work thoughts or worries looming in your mind, it’s a revelation. The things you notice, the things you appreciate, take on an extra clarity.

Chicago with our good friends Michelle and Alan.

We’re lucky to have friends in Chicago who also know how to appreciate where you are. Michelle and Alan never tire of exploring and experiencing their own city.

The Berghoff, a Chicago institution. One that well deserves its storied reputation – first to be issued a liquor license post prohibition – everything we ordered for lunch was quite good.
What to do on a cold day? The Chicago Art Institute.

After a lovely time in Chicago we flew to Denver, caught the bus to Boulder and spent time with my brother and had dinner with one of our wonderful nieces.

Charlie Kitty helping to keep me warm on a sunny but chilly Colorado day.
The snow helped us find even more beauty.
The horses might not enjoy the snow as much as we did.
With my brother Steve. The snow was melting away as we left to head across the Rockies to Grand Junction.
Scratching our itch for Mexican food. A fortifying taco stop in Golden, Colorado.

One thing we miss a lot when traveling is good Mexican food. Once in the rental car for the drive to Grand Junction it was easy enough to stop for an early lunch. Xicamiti La Taquería Bistro for the win. We were headed to help out with my sister’s animals while she traveled for work. Our house and pet sitting skills came in handy.

The view hiking from Pollock Bench trailhead, Fruita Colorado.
Snack stop spots of the world.
No matter how often we see the red rock canyons of Colorado the formations are stunning.
Tasha the big guard dog, and the setting sun lighting up the book cliffs.
Barn cats enjoying the sun. And waiting for food.
Everyone gets in on the sunset photo shoot.
“What? Am I not a cow?”
Checking out the newest brew pub in Fruita.
Tasha looks calm and cool here, but when she saw a fox and tried to take off after it, I was happy Rich was in control of the leash.
Thank you Colorado. We got our Covid booster from a lovely team on this bus.
My sister came home and brought back the newest addition to her household. 12 week old Lorelei.
The happy travelers looking forward to a family Thanksgiving.

I do think Thanksgiving is a fantastic holiday. Spending time with your family or family of choice, Friendsgiving, and lots of yummy food – that’s my idea of fun. We’ll be off to visit friends in Palm Springs, visiting family in Moorpark, and then back to SF for two weeks. Happy Thanksgiving all.

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!

Lisbon attitude adjustment.

Rich surveying the city on our way to the train station.

How much does your mental state affect your enjoyment of a place? For us in Lisbon the answer was ‘a lot’. Our mental and physical states had taken a beating by the time we got to our apartment hotel and made an initial grocery run. The positive Covid tests the first morning certainly didn’t help. Sometimes when traveling you just have to give yourself a mental shake, a stern talking to, and push through an attitude adjustment.

The Citymapper city logos make me smile every time.

You head out looking for beauty. Shake off your negative attitude and stride out, well, kind of limp out in our case. Spending two or three days inside while we tested positive didn’t help. Thankfully the rain made it easier to just hang out. A short careful walk, a quick masked grocery store run, and more resting – that was the extent of our first few days in Lisbon.

A framed and borrowed view.
Starting to notice the white walls and colored flowers.
Oh yes, this is helping my beaten down Covid brain.
The small streets are quiet and charming.

The mosaic sidewalks and plazas of Lisbon are beautiful. Under your feet is craftsmanship of a high quality.

The black basalt worked into the white limestone. Stunning.
It is called calçada portuguesa or simply calçada.

The calçada has a lot of positives, in addition to being beautiful it can adapt to uneven ground, or rise and fall with tree roots without cracking like concrete.

The calçada around the tree wells is not level., but still intact.
Tree roots becoming part of the paving.
Stopping to appreciate the work and imagine what a tough job this is, to piece together a mosaic sidewalk.

The slightly undulating calçada, and the diamond pattern made me feel as if I were walking on a giant snake. (Imaginative or Covid brain?)

You see the snakeskin pattern?
When this snakeskin gets wet – watch out!

We had some rain while in Lisbon, and that brought out the negative side of limestone snakeskin sidewalks- they get so slippery! We quickly learned to judge how slippery a stretch was likely to be based on how polished the white stones looked. The more shine, the higher your chance of losing your footing. If the sidewalks had the black basalt squares they were less slippery, or your foot wouldn’t slide as far since it would come into contact with a black stone and stop.

Slippery and in need of repair.

Apparently there just aren’t as many craftspeople available to keep the sidewalks in good shape, which means you have situations like the above photo. When it’s rainy people tend to walk in the street to stay upright. The car drivers seem quite used to it, but it’s still uncomfortable to have to watch out for cars while picking your way along the cobbled street.

Certainly not slippery. We didn’t get to see this street during a rainy period but I imagine it drains well.

Even with our positive mental attitude firmly in place we just could not enjoy walking around Lisbon. The sidewalks are simply too narrow, and not in great repair. In the more modern part of town, upslope, the traffic signals are set in favor of moving car traffic which means long long waits for pedestrians to get a crossing signal. The intersections can be huge, with so much extra pavement that car drivers have the ability to whip around corners at fairly high speed. We haven’t seen any of what we call Covid-era street improvements like we see in so many other cities, where street space has been reapportioned to give pedestrians and bikes more space, and increase safety.

That’s a narrow sidewalk. Not much that can be done here with the streetcar tracks.
A beautiful sidewalk. The more historic downtown area has sidewalks in better repair.
What can cheer up some slightly cranky post Covid travelers? A lovely lunch with adult beverages.
Lisbon really is beautiful. All those tourists can’t be wrong about that.

Part of our sour attitudes definitely came from the fact that a planned 3 night stay turned into 8 nights. Our positive Covid tests, coupled with the challenge of re-booking our flights on TAP airlines, kept us in town for the longest stretch we’ve spent in an A list tourist city since Copenhagen for the start of the Tour de France. We’re not always huge fans of A list cities, as they expose the negatives of concentrated tourism.

Keep that positive mental attitude going. A lovely almost 3 hour lunch in Cascais, a short train ride from Lisbon. We chatted for ages with a super nice Canadian/British couple at the next table.
Symmetrical potbellied trees. I think they are Queensland Bottle trees. Whatever they are – cute!
Rooster joining our coffee break.

Since this was our second time in Lisbon we do know one place that is guaranteed to make us smile. Parque Infantil da praça das Flores. We first visited this park on a trip to Cervecta Lisboa, in search of craft beer. We walked here from our Covid hotel nest/room and sat and enjoyed the calm. After testing negative we came and sat in the park with beer from the Cervecta. The calm attitude towards alcohol in parks, with kiosks offering coffee, snacks and drinks, and the local cafes allowing you to take your drink out to the park, is wonderful. It ensures there are always people around enjoying the parks. I would always rather sit in a park.

A happy traveler. You can see the kiosk in the background, and the beer place is to the left of the park.
Cheers to our favorite park.
Tired of beer? The kiosk has wine in little reusable plastic cups.
The happy travelers. Negative tests and ready to move on.

Farewell Lisbon, we intend to come back to Portugal and explore the B and C places, get off the beaten track a bit and spread the tourist love. Our travel world was not done throwing us curveballs yet, though. More on that in the next post from Brooklyn, NY.

Zarutz to Bilbao on the Camino del Norte.

The view after climbing out of Deba.

Is the Camino del Norte tough? Yes! Yes it is. Long days and lots of up and down. Add to that some rocky, muddy, rain soaked trails and you have long days that feel even harder than 15 miles/24 kilometers should.

An ancient stone road out of Zarautz.
Looking back towards Zarautz.
Cecily making friends with calf number 2570.
The churches with wide verandas made excellent places to stop and rest, this one is near Getaria.
A well placed vending machine was also a good place for a break.
Taking advantage of a farm cider opportunity did not make the remaining distance to Deba any easier.
After so much up and down on steep slippery trails, the public elevators of Deba were a very welcome sight.
These boat owners must be very sure footed. Deba harbor.

We had cloudy weather, but still mild. We hiked in some light rain, and some nice sun. It warmed up as our week went on, and by the time some of us hiked all the way into Bilbao on Saturday, it was warm. 80f/26c

Rocks left in memory and honor of lost loved ones.
The mountains provide a stunning backdrop.

Wait, some of us hiked into Bilbao? Yes some of us. One of us, me, Cheryl, ended up with tendinitis in my left foot. The day from Guernica to Zamudio was increasingly painful so I took a train the last short day to Bilbao, with Cecily.

Happy travelers leaving Altzaa.
A classic Camino photo. Happy to have four pairs of feet on this journey.
The days can be very long, but the company is great.
You look up and see a postcard perfect scene.
Over old stone bridges.
And by historic churches. I was wishing for a suspension bridge across this valley, but what a view back to the church.
Some of the cats are petable. Thank you for the photo Christine.
Leaving Guernica with smiles all around.
Our fearless leader.
The downhill was really starting to hurt my foot. But still smiling.
Last morning in Zamudio. Two of us are smiling because we’re headed for the train! Cecily is feeling run down and joined me on the train. Rich and Christine are looking forward to the hike into Bilbao.
Ticket to ride. Me and my bad foot.
Masks still required on public transit in Spain. Enjoying moving but not hiking.
Cecily enjoying the view.
The Camino route comes right past our hotel so Cecily went out to meet our Pilgrims, Christine and Rich.
Recovering with tea and wine. Ibuprofen and ice and rest came next.
Thank you Cecily and Christine for the Camino time with us.

When we decided to leave San Francisco and travel it was our hope we would be able to meet up with friends and go on adventures together. This was an adventure, and we were so happy to share it with such good friends. Christine and I met the first day at University a good many years ago. The joy of long time friends.

The happy travelers in Bilbao old town.

Rich and I will be in Lisbon next, after a few days enjoying Bilbao with Christine and Cecily, and on to New York City and New England. Visiting friends and family there and in Chicago, and then, Thanksgiving with family. Looking forward to that very much. Happy fall.

How to take a vacation from your travels. And on to the next adventure.

It’s been over a year since we’ve been nomading, vagabonding, wandering – whatever it is we’re doing. The transitions can be very challenging, city to county side, country to country, bike touring to backpack travel again. How do we do it without burning out, or driving each other bonkers? Our secret superpower is a home base in France, thanks to wonderful friends who hopefully know how much we appreciate it. There we can swap gear, relax in familiar and comfortable surroundings (Oh, comfy couch, we love you.), and actually be in different rooms from each other! For hours!

Those are the smiles of travelers who get to be somewhere familiar and cozy, and swap out some gear.

We are super fortunate to have a private home where we can recharge, but we also have places which are familiar and comfortable that provide the same mental break. Bristol, in the UK. A city we love and have been to three times. Hove/Brighton will be one of those places as well. Both have good public transit, lots to do and see and good for getting around the area. Izmir, Turkey is probably one of the places we’ll go back to again and feel happy knowing our way around, and what we like to do and eat. Our home town of San Francisco, of course. A place where you can navigate without a map and know the bus routes and bike routes. That feels great, wherever it is.

The relief felt when encountering French bike infrastructure again is massive.

But wait, how did we get here? As Rich mentioned in the previous post, Hove to the Haute Savior takes about 13 not always easy steps, with loaded touring bikes. Trains, a ferry, rides to and from hotels, to and from trains, trains to trains, and finally a lift the last few steep miles. We love the UK, but the French have really zoomed ahead of the British with safe, comfortable bike facilities, especially in urban areas and to connect town and cities. From getting off the ferry in the dark and rain, and directly on to a protected cycle way to our hotel, to the next morning riding the riverside path that led us into Caen for our train to Paris, it felt easy and relaxed. We both breathed a sigh of relief. Oh yeah, this is fun! Bike touring with no safe route is so stressful. Bike touring with lovely pathways and signage? A joy.

Headed from Ouistreham where the ferry docks, into Caen.
Arrived at Gare Paris Saint-Lazare via train. Tick off another step.
Rue de Rivoli in Paris at rush hour. Headed to our hotel in the 12 arrondissement.

Let’s take a moment to recognize what an amazing transformation Paris has undergone. 10k at rush hour with loaded touring bikes and it was not at all stressful. Even though we probably caused some near misses as we stopped at red lights and the cyclists behind us kept going – there was no cross traffic so they were being safe, just not expecting the big old loaded American touring bikes to actually stop! We got the hang of it. The quiet of Rue de Rivoli was like a forest bath. The sound of voices and bike tires. No loud engines. No car horns. Just the lovely sound of people. I’ll say it again, cities aren’t loud, internal combustion engines are loud.

Gare de Lyon, waiting for our TGV platform to be announced. One night in Paris is too short a stay, but still fun.
Three trains later, yada yada yada, we made it!

So, now that our legs, backs, and bottoms are totally adapted to bike touring, after four months of travel by and with bikes, let’s mix it up!

Load up that backpack, lace up the boots, and let’s Camino.

While down in town at the weekly market, where we walked with our packs which have scallop shell Camino patches on them, a young man said to us – you have a long way to go. And then after I used my one good French phrase “I’m sorry, I don’t speak French.”, he said it again in English. (Oh, to be bilingual.) Why thank you for thinking we could and would walk all the way from the French border with Switzerland to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, but no. We will actually fly to Bilbao.

My Camino pack. Getting some air.

We try quite hard to not fly places. This will be our first flight since returning from Turkey in May. Unfortunately, avoiding air travel means you must have time, and more money than the cheap flights cost. But, we do what we can, and sometimes our chosen lifestyle means airplanes.

Lunch break on our first training day out with our packs.
Second day hiking. Ready for the rain.
And rain it did. We were grateful to find this shelter by a glider field so we could enjoy our lunch.

With packs on and trekking poles in hands we started walking. And walking some more. Hopefully we’ll be in good enough hiking shape for the long Camino days.

Third day. Up into to the fog we go.
A very helpful and beautiful orientation table at the peak of the climb. It did clear a bit on our way back.
He’s ready to Camino.
Practicing the Camino picnic. My Cleverhood rain cape doubles as a ground cloth for sitting.

What a place to be able to train for the Camino. The Lower Alps are simply stunning. Varied terrain, nicely signposted routes, amazing views. And beautiful cows. Making all that delicious cheese.

Respect our cows. Words to live by.
Who could not respect you? Gorgeous.
The Happy Travelers on our final training hike. The sun came out to bid us farewell.

By the time you read this we will be headed to Spain. We’re meeting dear friends from California to hike part of the Camino del Norte. Adiós y Buen Camino!

Cycling rail trails in Ireland, including the new Limerick Greenway.

Rich doing the loaded touring bike slalom on the Limerick Greenway.

Our bike tour in Ireland followed a good bit of the signed EuroVelo 1 route, and in his planning Rich had seen a greenway shown as running from Listowel to Rathkeale, also part of EuroVelo 1. Ah, what a perfect way to end our tour, greenway for a day and a half towards Limerick, from where we would take the train to Dublin. However, a small snag.

Nothing like seeing the fresh pavement of a greenway you cannot ride.

Work on the section from Listowel to Abbeyfeale is ongoing. We stood outside a construction fence separating us from the start of the path in Listowel, pondering in our bike tourer way if we could slip around the fence and poach the trail, when a super nice worker turned off his digger, got out, and came over to explain to us where the closest spot was where we could access the completed section of greenway. After a lovely chat, we followed his directions and started riding on fresh new greenway.

Left is a construction fence, right is wonderful butter smooth pavement all the way to Rathkeale.
Rich heads to an overpass under cloudy skies.

A lot of things about this path, which is a former a railway line, were very impressive. The crossings for farm lands were handled quite well, we thought. Gates for the farmer to close off the trail to the cattle, side gates for trail users to use if the big gates were in use, and a fresh concrete pad across the trail – whether for delineation or cattle ease I don’t know – but quite nice.

Rich added for scale at farm crossing.
Crossing cows added for scale, and to delight the tourists!
Bright new signage.
I like the code of respect, rather than a list of rules.

Signage was very well done. Both information sharing and history telling signs. We stopped to read every single sign about the history of the railway. Always read the information boards!

Details of route and sights to see.

The railway was originally built primarily to move dairy products, and with so much cattle land and creameries on the route, it was a busy line.

Details and history of the old Devon Road station.
The legend for the larger signs.

We were impressed with the number of picnic tables and benches along the route as well. Given how much it rains in Ireland it would be nice to have some covered tables and benches, but perhaps that will be added in the future.

Picnic tables and bike racks abound. A stretch of original forest adds to the charm of this section of path.
This old station building has been turned into an adorable dwelling.
Buildings restored, but not repurposed…yet?

Riding the greenway from Abbeyfeald to Newcastle West, where we spent the night, was such a joy. The butter smooth pavement, the views, and seeing quite a few cyclists, dog walkers, and runners, all happily enjoying the new trail. We do notice that Ireland suffers from a lack of hiking and walking trails. Unlike England, Wales, and Scotland with their extensive public foot path networks and hiking trails, Ireland’s beautiful countryside is mostly off limits to public walking. We read up on the laws, it’s an ongoing issue and under discussion, but the right to roam and cross farmlands is not enshrined in Ireland. So, anywhere with walking paths is a draw, be it a former grand estate now a public park, Belvedere Gardens near Mullingar, or the Clara Bog boardwalk near Birr, which specifically said it wasn’t an exercise path but people were using it as such, jogging laps, and this old rail line. So many people are out enjoying it. Sadly, it seems many have to drive to find a place to walk, which in a country with not a huge population isn’t a parking issue, yet, but it did make us think about how we as tourists on bikes, could visit Ireland without bikes and actually get enough exercise? The opportunities to hike were limited and involved routes that were on the road quite a bit, like the Wicklow Way, some of which we cycled.

Next stop Newcastle West, our weather luck held out and the rain held off.
Off again the next morning towards Rathkeale, the current end of the greenway.
Dramatic skies as Rich heads under another lovely stone overpass.
The views were delightful. And still enjoying that velvety pavement.
Nearing the end of the greenway. And sensing the beginning of fall.
We were back on roads for about 40k to get to Limerick, but we crossed the old rail line and wondered what the future holds for extending the greenway towards Limerick.

Ireland is doing great work with converting and updating old rail lines into multi use paths. In addition to the Limerick greenway we rode the Mullingar to Athlone Greenway.

Greenway entrance in Athlone.
Rails still in place for a dramatic effect- Athlone Mullingar greenway.

And, after a night in Cork where we arrived by train, we rode the Blackrock Greenway out of the city. It was also recently updated and upgraded, with wide smooth pathways making for a stress free ride with plenty of room for all users. Ireland is setting a high standard for mixed use pathways.

The engineer reading about the bridge. Plenty of room to pull over and read the sign board.
Very impressed with the updated crossings and entrances/exits to the path.
On the Passage West greenway near Horsehead. And another fascinating info board.
The Clara Bog boardwalk. It hadn’t rained much for a few weeks so the bog was a bit dry. No puddles.

We’re back in the UK now, and riding leisurely from London to Brighton. We rode several footpaths and bridle ways today and agreed that we missed that option in Ireland. We also missed the small lanes of Ireland while cycling on busy roads here. If we are ever asked to create a perfect country from the point of view of auto adverse cyclists, it will certainly include Irelands small lanes, greenways, and considerate drivers. And Germany’s covered picnic tables near impressive cycle routes. And the Netherlands’ amazing cycle ways connecting every town and city. And Sweden’s cycle centric design and laws and attentive drivers. Oh, Belgium’s amazing fast track of bicycle infrastructure too. Denmark’s embrace of the bicycle for everyday transport and their bakeries. The list goes on. We miss what we don’t have while appreciating what we do have.

The happy travelers walking the Clara Bog boardwalk.

What caught my attention cycling in Ireland? Stone walls and stone bridges.

Rich riding across the bridge over the River Nore at Inistioge.

I do love a bridge. Good thing my wonderful civil engineer husband does too. Or, as he might say, good thing my amazing, strong, and adaptable wife also likes bridges. The photos in this post highlight yet again the way bike touring helps you enjoy the countryside. Slow enough to enjoy things, but fast enough that you can cover some ground.

Green’s Bridge in Kilkenny, also over the River Nore.
Holdenstown Lower, on the Wicklow Way. No idea what the name of the creek is.

It can be a bit tricky to get the photos I want of the bridges. If the road doesn’t have a curve before the bridge you don’t get a good view of the stone arch or arches. Climbing down into the fields is usually quite impossible – brambles and nettles make sure of that. Rich got the photo above with a little climbing and a long reach.

Slievenamough Plain. Now that is just a lovely little bridge. I stopped just in time to catch Rich riding across.

My long suffering husband also has to deal with turning around to realize I’m not in sight anymore. Stopped for a photo, saw a cat, or had a mechanical? Thankfully, usually the first two.

View from the Glenmalure Lodge. Fan of big puffy clouds? Yes, me too.

Next on my list of favorite things in Ireland is stone walls. Even on a climb so steep that I can barely start pedaling my loaded bike again, I’ll still stop to get a shot over a stone wall. Or two shots.

So many shades of green against a grey sky. This is the climb out of the Glenmalure Lodge valley. I think there is a stone wall buried under the ferns.
Just a few meters up the road, the same view, but this time with heather and foxgloves. And the same challenge to start pedaling up the mountain again.

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower-but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, all in all,
I should know what God and man is. Alfred Lord Tennyson

I’m glad I looked that poem up, I thought it was Robert Frost. That poem has been running through my head every time I see a stone wall and a flower. Which, riding in Ireland in August, is frequently.

Glendalough. Ferns, crannied wall, and sheep.
Annemoe. Stone wall and two curious cows.
Roundwood. Daisies taller than the wall.
Near the Nun’s Church at Clonmacnoise Monastic site.
Mount Temple. On a walk back from the pub. The variation of the stone walls really catches my attention in these photos. All different styles.

We have two more weeks of bike touring in Ireland, our two week Housesit is wrapping up. We’re heading to the west coast, very much looking forward to seeing what that’s like. My other fascination is with the traditional Irish cottages. I haven’t managed to get any good photos though- so fingers crossed for that!

The happy travelers enjoying a walk on the Clara Bog boardwalk.

How is Ireland for cycling? Fantastic!

Our first full day in Ireland, a few miles outside of Wexford.

We were not sure what to expect, bike touring in Ireland. Our ride from Rosslare Harbor, where the ferry docks, to Wexford, was not super encouraging. Large road with fast traffic, N Road, although a decent paved paved shoulder, or back roads with very choppy asphalt, L Roads. Hmmm…neither of those hit our sweet spot for cycling. There are also R Roads which vary in accommodations for cyclists.

Hanging whiskey bottles at The Sky and the Ground pub – enthusiastically recommended to us by two young women at another pub.

Thankfully that first ride lied. Not only are the Irish super friendly when it comes to pub culture- we were singing along with the guitar player in our very first pub – but we’re finding the drivers to be very respectful and careful of cyclists.

A typical L road, enough room for passing, no center stripe, cool green canopy.

Of course, when we say that to Irish cyclists we get a look that says “really?”. Maybe our obvious cycle tourist gear screams “We don’t live here. We’re rubber necking and will likely stop at every lovely view.” Perhaps that gets you an extra measure of consideration.

Lunch in a field with a view, on our way to New Ross.

Hey guess what? July and August are busy travel months. Through all our working years we never traveled in August and only once in July, to bike in Quebec. So this peak season stuff is different for us. The planner was working hard to find us suitable bike touring accommodations: Somewhere safe to store the bikes. Not too far from town or dinner opportunities. With breakfast starting hopefully at 7 or 7:30. And not a lovely but possibly cloying BnB. Some folks are BnB folks. Some aren’t. We fall in the middle leaning towards not.

Our BnB outside New Ross was thankfully walking distance to a farm to table restaurant, Mannion’s Pub. A pint of recovery beverage.
The lovely town of Inistioge, on the River Nore. Heading towards Kilkenny.
A notable photo in that I’m ahead of Rich! On a hill! (He had a mechanical.) Another good example of an L road.

We were winging it a bit, not sure of how far we would ride each day, and Rich was booking as far ahead as two days, as little ahead as that morning. We ended up staying two different places in Kilkenny since we hit it on a long Bank Holiday weekend, so both Saturday and Sunday nights were busy. Bank Holiday weekend equals busy and pricey.

A much appreciated bench in Thomastown. It’s not as easy to find picnic lunch spots in Ireland as some other countries where we’ve cycled (hello Sweden), but when we do they tend to be beautiful.
Moving from one hotel to the next in Kilkenny, castle in the background and still on the River Nore.
Wandering around Kilkenny on our rest day.

Next was a night in Carlow, one of those towns we love since it’s not a usual tourist stop and we had a fantastic chat with a hotel owner who had immigrated with his family from Ireland to SF when he was a child, and came back to Ireland in his 30s. The close connections between Ireland and the US are still heartwarming, even considering the tough conditions that sent people in search of a better life for their families. Hearing from someone who came back to Ireland was fascinating.

Grey but fairly dry. Green vistas on our way to Carlow.
I love these lanes with grass growing in the center. This signals a quiet lane to me.
Hello goats. Why yes, we are fascinating.
Picnic tip – Churchyards. We stopped at a lot in Denmark and now here in Ireland. Always either a bench or a green spot to sit and relax. Pictured is our second Turkish towel/picnic blanket/temporary window shade. I lost the green one in Denmark and bought a replacement in Bristol.
Heading in to Carlow on the River Barrow. Always nice to find some off road trails.
Another Churchyard picnic heading from Carlow to Glenmalure.
Looking quite confident considering the climb that is coming up.
How Rich looks climbing the Wicklow mountains, he loves loves loves climbing.
Versus how I look on long climbs. Hot, tired, and thinking about what my reward will be be for this.
At the summit of the day’s climb.
And the reward at The Glenmalure Lodge.
Before he broke the news we had another climb the next day.
Showered, fed, and saying – why yes, I can start right up the mountain tomorrow.

The lovely Glenmalure Lodge is in a valley. So yes, you get on your bike and turn right up to the next climb. Again, the car drivers are considerate and the views are stunning. However, it was humid and still and the flies were finding me very interesting. That kept me climbing, and the promise of a break at a cafe in Laragh.

Rich having a break while he waited for me.
Another summit celebration.
The promised break. Tea, coffee, and scones.

Now we were heading to Dublin. Well, Dún Laoghaire actually. The previous comments about travel in August proved very true in Dublin. Busy and pricey. Dún Laoghaire is a short train ride from downtown Dublin and a lovely relaxed place.

First, some blackberry picking.
Loads of berries, not all ripe yet but enough for a post scone snack.
Signage along the Wicklow Way. We saw quite a few hikers in this stretch.
A happy cyclist.
I love switching cities on my Citymapper app. If you’re not familiar with Citymapper, download it now. Best transit app available.
Dublin. We had a great day walking around and intend to come back again. Maybe not in August.
Packed up to head to the train station. Our firm dates for Ireland have been a two week house and pet sit through Trustedhousesitters. So off to Dublin Heuston train station we go.
The happy travelers.

After our two week rural idyll we’ll head back out on our bikes for another two weeks before we return to Dublin for a few days and to catch another ferry (love the ferries!) to Holyhead in the UK. I have more photos of Ireland to share. I really do stop at every scenic spot and every cute animal. Until then – happy pedaling!

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.