Wales

We are so fortunate to have good friends who live in Wales. Staying with them allows us to see another side of this beautiful green coastal area.

The Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. Cute puffins and challenging Welsh language.

Green fields means rain. Rain means rainbows. We have not been disappointed by the quantity of stunning rainbows.

Rainbow over Tenby.
A nice blue sky background for this one.
Full Tenby South Beach rainbow with Rich added for scale.

For anyone who hasn’t heard a Welsh accent, find the UK series – Gavin & Stacey, a Welsh and English comedytelevision series written by James Corden and Ruth Jones about two families: one in Billericay, Essex; one in Barry, South Wales. (From Wikipedia.) A really fun series.

All the signs are in Welsh and English, pronunciation is tough.

Walking on the coastal path is one of our favorite things to do. Be ready for wind and rain this time of year, and be ready to be blown away by the geology. It helps to have someone drop you off at one spot, and you either hike back to home, or they generously pick you up hours later.

Looks like the setting for a good gothic novel.
Terrifying view down to the ocean down a slot.
This area cries out for a geologist guide to accompany you.

So how did we get here and still stick to our car lite car free ethos? Train from London to Swansea – a minus one minute transfer there where most of the train passengers started dashing to the connection to Camarthen- it was held but no one told us all that so it was a bit of a mad scramble. Our wonderful friends picked us up by car in Camarthen. There is a line to Tenby but there was no connection we could make that day.

On the busy train to Camarthen. Nice to see the trains busy.

It reminds us that to replace car use, alternatives need to be reliable, affordable, and easy to figure out. The UK has a much better passenger train system than most of the US, but when driving and flying are still cheaper and easier options, or you don’t have someone to help you out with a ride, it can be tricky to rely on trains. We’re slow traveling so we don’t mind lots of train time, but to sacrifice time and more money is a non starter for most. Non peak hours trains are much cheaper, not traveling on a Friday or Sunday – much cheaper. But if you need to travel on peak or are meeting usual office hours, you will pay more and it’s not cheap. For us, not having to rent a car (yet), and having friends who don’t mind picking us up at train stations (yet), and being willing to walk from train stations wearing our rucksacks to hotels 20 or 30 minutes from the station, means we can be as car free as we have managed. Long may we continue this.

Happy to have the flexibility to travel the way we love.
And happy and lucky to have friends who live in lovely Tenby who have us to stay..

Next up? Bath, Bristol, friends in West Sussex, Leicester, and then Morocco. Rich will write about the travel planning during COVID challenges. Happy travels.

London weekend.

Favorite thing about London? The transport. Transport for London (TFL) has quite a task keeping the underground, overground, and all the amazing buses moving. Once again, Citymapper for the London win. Using that app allows us to get anywhere in London on any mode. Turn by turn call out bike directions, we love you, especially the dock to dock bike share feature. As Rich notes, that was the missing piece when using bikeshare and directions. If you aren’t using Citymapper as your preferred transit/mobility app, give it a try, we think it’s the best.

Backpack mode in the tube. It was a shock to have everything on our backs instead of on our bikes.

We met up with one of our fantastic nieces for lunch and a walk. We biked around on the cycle share Boris Bikes, also known as Santander Cycles. we went to the Imperial War Museum and lost track of time in the amazingly well curated World War 2 exhibit. We didn’t take many photos. Too busy enjoying the city.

After lunch walk on the Grand Union Canal. I have a thing for narrow boats and locks.

The Imperial War Museum reminded us of how great museums can be. The WW2 exhibit was next level curating. Diverse, engaging, and accessible. It made me want to write a sternly worded email to the Louvre about the problems we saw there while visiting Paris. We had been in the Louvre for about 3 hours when my wonderful husband said “Do they even exhibit any female artists?” And I thought I was the staunch feminist in this marriage! Good question, I replied, proudly. The top item on my sternly worded email to the Louvre would be a request that they call out in a map, or with specifically marked or colored description tags, the few female artists they have on display.

London bikeshares.

When I did an online search for information on female artists at the Louvre it turned out we had noticed several, without being aware that they were works by female artists. I don’t believe any of the art covered in the needlessly complicated audio guide, (Nintendo based, a big hit with the mostly over 55 users I’m sure), was woman painted. Next in my email I’ll mention the badly laid out cloak room/lockers, lack of drinking fountains, lack of signage and directions, and the exit through the shopping mall with again, no signage on how to exit the shopping mall. The art is, of course, amazing, but the curation is not up to date. We certainly didn’t plan our Louvre trip very well, we never even made it to one wing – we simply couldn’t find it – but as Rich said, a well curated museum shouldn’t need a plan of attack. It should be more intuitive and obvious where you want to go.

Pub lunch photo taken by our amazing niece.

We have reveled in being able to communicate again with our move to English speaking UK. After so many weeks in countries where we spoke the language poorly (Rich’s French is pretty good, mine is awful), how nice to understand and be understood. It was also lovely to meet up with friends from SF, and our grad school attending niece. After many weeks of mostly each other for company we both enjoyed the time with friends and family. Where next? Off to Wales.

Reflections on the City of Light

We finally ditched our beloved bikes and rolled into Paris in style on the TGV from Annecy. Since we travelled on a weekend, my €49/year discount SNCF Carte Adulte offered first class for just a few Euro more than second, so first class it was with nice facing “Club Duo”. “Good train time per $!” as my friend Mike would say.

Upper deck of the TGV. Comfy (me) and stylish (the train)

Carrying our gear on our backs was quite a shock and we have both vowed again to rid our bags of even more things before we move onto to any travels further afield. Seriously!

French chocolates on the TGV

We chose to stay in the 10th Arrondissement, and were pleased with the choice as it spans a clear transitional world between the more traditional Parisienne neighborhoods such as the Marais to the more working class and immigrant neighborhoods. It is a fascinating mix of cultures, but clearly dealing with strong gentrification pressure. There is a palpable delineation between the older neighborhood residents and the new boho hipsters. The similar global urban story of businesses transitioning to serve the new residents, and the older residents being priced out. And maybe we are adding to the problem, or are we just supporting a variety of small businesses?

The backstreets of the 10th on a Sunday afternoon
Rue de Belleville on a warm fall evening

The neighborhood is also blessed with the lovely Canal Saint Martin, which is even more pleasant now that ped/bike priority streets have been added on both sides, and reminded us of the Panhandle in San Francisco. (with water and locks of course)

Canal Saint Martin

We explored Paris every day to a blissful exhaustion, but found rush hour walking tough, both on the busy boulevards and back streets, as sidewalks are single-file only with the usual urban bobbing and weaving. We also took a few trips on Lime e-bikes, and some of the new bike facilities are fantastic! But wayfinding and the intersections tough for first time Paris cyclists. Cyclists are everywhere and go in every direction, but are mostly looking and have tamed cars with their unpredictability and sheer quantity. We like that.

Lots of mobility options in Paris

By the way, as of November 2019, Velib does not accept US or Canadian credit cards, even with chips, chip and PIN, and card authorization through your cc company. Big bummer, as we tried numerous times ways and were thwarted. Apparently too much fraud??!

Morning on the Pont des Arts

We did hit a few of the major tourist spots, such as the Louvre and Sacre-Couer, but found exploring the edges of Montmartre more satisfying then the throngs by the famous stairs.

Tomb of Oscar Wilde, Père Lachaise Cemetery

I am still amazed how the A-list sites are absolutely inundated, yet one turn up a quiet side street can reveal hidden wonders and always find that in big cities, we prefer random neighborhood wandering, small museums and parks.

Our favorite bar in Montmartre which was delightfully out of central casting for 90s indie film!

France and the people we have met have been so kind to us, both on and off the bikes, and we are starting to feel a little more kinship and understanding with their perspective on living life, history, geography and the struggles to maintain liberté in the 2020s.

Au revoir et bon voyage!

Farewell chateaux.

Amboise in the setting sun. Golden light.

As we pedaled along a few days ago and did the math, we realized we’d been bike touring for 48 days. That’s our longest trip ever on bikes. As I write this, on a train from Tours to Dijon, it’s day 50. It’s certainly a lot of work, not the pedaling part although that can be tough at times, but the moving most nights. The unpacking (I call it the bag barf, where I simply turn my panniers upside down and let everything cascade to the floor.), the packing, and of course the travel planning done exclusively by Rich. Each day he checks terrain and weather and towns that look nice for a stay, one night or two, the feeding of two hungry cyclists – thank goodness for hotel breakfasts – whoops, watch out for Sunday, everything closes about noon, be ready for that!

Riding to the château of Chambord on a misty cool morning.

But everyday at one point or another, while looking at the river, or a chateau in the mist, or collapsed on a bench for a tea break, we look around and say to each other- wow, this is amazing and we are so lucky.

A perfect bench for a break.
Chambord in moody black and white. Yes, scaffolding. Imagine how difficult is to keep up the maintenance on a heap like this!

The things that we notice while traveling the speed we can pedal are so detailed. Wild boar in the forests on the way to Chateau Chambord. Hunters in orange vests ranged out alongside a forested patch near the river, hunting boar we assume. We stopped to watch, heard the hunting dogs baying, and saw a deer come running out of the forest across a field, followed by a hare who ran so fast and so far – completely spooked and relived that the men in orange were not after him. Gunshots rang out, we checked our brightly colored rain jackets were on for increased visibility, and pedaled away. Just another day on the bike tour, but one I hope we’ll always remember.

A morning ride though the vineyards.

At a Sunday stop at a bakery for sandwiches we chatted with a super nice British couple who’d been living in France for 30 years, he was a cyclist and wanted to chat about our American made bikes. As Rich described our route and we mentioned that we had taken some train hops he shook his head and his partner said, oh, he thinks trains are cheating when you’re bike touring. We don’t. We haven’t owned a car in 21 years, we’ve earned these train hops.

At the train station in Tours.
Waiting for the nice railroad worker to lead us across the tracks at Nevers, where there are no ramps and no elevators.
On our way to Dijon on a lovely new train.
From Dijon in an older train car. Down that corridor are actual separate compartments.

We’re headed back to our French “home base”, looking forward to some time not moving, cooking for ourselves and hiking in addition to biking. We’ll leave the bikes there, swap our our luggage and head by train to Paris, then to London, and then to Tenby, Wales.

Seeing the world one kilometer at a time, with plenty of breaks.

Loire Valley continues. Now with more head cold.

Morning in Châteauneuf-sur-Loire.

Bike touring with a cold reminds me of how professional riders will say “I just didn’t have the legs today.” to explain what happened on a disastrous stage of a tour. Well, that was me for a few days. I just didn’t have the legs.

Smiling bravely as we start off one morning.
Château Sully sur Loire.
Picnic at the Chateau. Note the little bottle of rosé.
Picnic assembled from the leftovers of our apartment cooked dinner the night before. And some grocery store additions.

The wild Loire River continues to delight us with its scenery, and we’re meeting more cycle tourists too, which is fun. While we were stopped at a picnic area a French guy pulled up, and excused himself from joining us at our table by explaining he wasn’t vaccinated, so we chatted from a distance. He was planning on going to the US ‘when this COVID stuff is over’ and ride from San Diego to Vancouver, Canada, and then across Canada to Montreal. When we said something about distance, that is a long ride, he responded with a most French shrug of his shoulders and a noise that sounded like ‘bwooeef’.

Chilly mornings and loads of stops to read about the wildlife.
Never say no to a bench. Who knows when you’ll find another one. Note the clumps of mistletoe in the tree behind Rich.
Another great cycle tourist, Daniel, who was waiting for his son whose Brompton folding bike had a tire problem.
The traditional fishing boats of the Loire are so beautiful.
More boats, we didn’t see any in use but quite a few anchored. Rich added for scale.

We spent two nights in Orleans to rest up. We both had head colds but I got hit harder then Rich. I spent most of our rest day in bed.

Never too tired or sick to resist posing as Jeanne d’Arc as we approach Orleans.
Evening light at the river in Orleans. The river is wide and chocolate brown, we could understand why New Orleans in the US reminded someone of Orleans.
Heading out, mostly recovered, to see more chateaus.
Across the river the happy cyclist goes on.

This area of the Loire is blessed with many chateaus. I promise pictures of some of them, but it’s not so easy to actually go inside and visit when bike touring. There is the problem of not only locking the bikes up, but securing the bags as well. So far we’ve been content with merely looking at and reading about the chateaus.

A slightly abandoned air about this one.

Happy pedaling!

Alsace wine trail during harvest.

The Route Des Vins.

This is the kind of riding Rich loves – rollers up and down, quiet roads with only occasional cars and busy but careful farm vehicles bringing the grapes in.

Through the vineyards on smooth pavement.

This is the kind of riding I love too, through wine county.

A lovely view and a bottle provided by the BnB. Heaven after a long ride up the hill to the BnB.

Harvesting here looks different from what we see in California. In Germany a machine rolls along actually shaking and pulling the bunches of grapes off the vines. Here, a machine rolls along cutting the lower leaves off and leaving the bunches of grapes hanging naked below the vines. Then, we saw teams of locals, mostly women, wearing aprons and wielding clippers, start into the vineyards.

The pre harvest machine.
Rich added for scale in front of the clipper machine.

The towns we rode through for the past two days were each more charming than the last, making for some slow riding as I stopped to take photos and read tourist info plaques. Blienschwiller, Itterschwiller, Mittelbergheim, Barr, Bernardswiller, and Molsheim where we had a wonderful long lunch and sheltered from the rain on day one.

A typical town with German and French influences.

This area was German and then French, making for some mixed up seeming names. One war memorial I stopped to read had Jean Michael Herzog among others, and of course the usual and heartbreaking lists of family names from both wars – a reminder of the sadness and horror that must have felt as if it were stalking families.

Rich waiting patiently as I gush over another charming town.
Marking the very first time we ever outlasted the locals at lunch. We quick Americans are usually fast lunchers, but it was raining and our check in time was 3:30.
Smiling in the rain, the amazing lunch and carafe of wine helped.

The historic Canal de la Bruche was our route out of Strasbourg and reminded us of the many UK narrow boat vlogs we watched during lockdown. Beautiful.

Watching a swan ply the canal.
Someone had helpfully spray painted a 17% on the hill to let me know how steep it was. And yes, those are waterproof socks I’m wearing with my sandals. Chic, no?
Riding out the rain and a rainbow ends in the vineyards. Perfect.
A rest break in Barr with this view.
The only downside to biking a fairly long day is my unwillingness to stop and taste. Vin Nouveau is a new fascination of ours.
Happy cycling couple.
A smaller town, only 7 wineries listed. Rich in the background enjoying our picnic lunch on day two.
Happy Alsace wine drinker. The long day of passing vineyard after vineyard and smelling the pressing going on in each town was finally rewarded at dinner in Colmar. The small green stemmed glasses are traditional.

We’re in Colmar now, here for two nights in this charming town, then on to more adventures. Our plans are changing as we ride and explore. Happy pedaling!

Down the Loire Valley by bike and train.

We left Colmar by train on a forecast rainy day and did a 3 train hop to Nevers during which it rained very satisfyingly hard. It made me very happy to hear that rain pelt the train windows while we were warm and dry inside.

Almost all of the French trains we’ve caught have been low floor boarding with good bike space.
Happy travel planner. One transfer was cross platform and the other had ramps to and from the platforms.

Train travel tip with bikes: always leave super early to ride to the train station, you never know what will suck up that extra time. So far we’ve had: crowded market day along the route, broken elevators requiring unloading and carrying bags and bikes up and down stairs, massive construction projects leading to circumnavigating the entire station, and uncooperative ticket machines (we usually book on line but the website was down.). So pad that trip with extra time. The worst that happens is that you’re early and get to hang out on the platform wondering which carriages will have the bike logo on the side – near where you’re standing or a trot down the platform?

Low floor boarding. A fan favorite.

We’ve found the local French trains, Ters or regional, reliably have a bike car at the front of the train, and usually at least one if not more further down. If you’re really not sure where the bike space will be, figure out which way the train is traveling and stand at the end of the platform where the train arrives. You’ll be able to see the marked bike cars and can always run down the platform if you need to.

Café Velo in Nevers, France. We stayed in one their lovely upstairs apartments.

Another good tip is to make sure you can take your panniers off quickly, not only to make the bike lighter to lift up stairs, but to be able to stack the bikes efficiently in the bike area. Also so that you can do a quick bag removal, toss the bags into the train and then lift your bike in all while panicking that the train will try to leave without you. The station at Nevers did not have ramps or elevators, us and three other cyclists did the unload bags, carry down carry up, wondering aloud what people with mobility issues would do. We found the answer to that question, which is hail a member of staff and they will help you cross the tracks at the end of the platform. Strictly prohibited for general use. Of course, we were also told that finding a member of staff can be difficult, but now we know.

A narrow street in Nevers.
The cathedral was bombed “accidentally” during WWII and rebuilt. The stained glass windows are from about 1948 and so modern.
The St. James scallop shell in the upper right corner caught my attention.
And then we ran into two pilgrims walking the Camino and took photos together. They had about 1,333 kms to go to Santiago Spain. They absolutely looked up to the challenge.

We rolled out of Nevers and started the Loire River Eurovelo Route 6, heading west.

Quite a bit of levee riding at times, but those smiles mean we had tailwinds.
Lunch in Pouilly Fumé, drinking… Pouilly Fumé.
This canal has the unromantic name of lateral canal to the Loire. We renamed it canal of green.
We hit rain and found shelter at a Loire nature center. We stayed for quite a while while the heavy rain passed through and ate everything in our food pannier. Made for a varied and interesting lunch.
Met a lovely young American cyclist also sheltering from the rain, Toby. It was his first bike tour and I’d say he’s hooked.
The Loire is a wild river. Loads of islands, sandbars, and very untamed banks. Amazing bird life.
My new favorite style of picnic table, built up against the parapet so you can take in the view.

One of the joys about not having to plan too far in advance, or being so busy sorting out places to stay, so that we don’t really know what’s coming up, is being surprised by something like the Pont Canal de Briare.

And what is it, exactly, this exciting canal?
Only water over water! Our old friend Lateral Canal crosses the Loire River in a 662 meter stretch of gorgeous steel and masonry. That’s almost half of a mile of aqueduct canal.
Green painted creatures guard the canal.
Across goes Rich. We were delighted that Eurovelo 6 travels on the canal towpath.
This canal deserves all the photos. It’s a marvel.
Riding into Gien. That’s the lovely Château de Gien behind an equally lovely Rich.
Happy cyclists enjoying a picnic table with a view of the wild Loire River.

We may push on to the Atlantic Ocean, or we may not. There are more Châteaus to see and more wild river to enjoy. Happy pedaling.

Across a river and back to France.

Lovely canal views.

We stayed two nights in Strasbourg and celebrated being back in France by having Sri Lankan food one night, and Syrian food the second night. One of the things we miss about SF is eating around the world in a single week, so when we’re in a larger city we take advantage and find some different restaurants.

Pink and orange reflected in the canal.
Adorable gargoyle on the famous cathedral.
A common sign turned into a love letter for Strasbourg.

Today we head out on the Eurovelo 5, to the Alsatian wine route. Goal is the Atlantic Ocean (with a train hop in there!) But let me repeat- wine route!

Happy cyclists.

Rain is expected today so the rain gear we’ve been carrying for five weeks may finally get an outing.

Happy pedaling!

What to eat along the way.

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

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

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

Sandwiches on board, ready for de-mayonnaising.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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