LetsGoWander.World: Blog https://www.letsgowander.world/blog en-us (C) LetsGoWander.World (LetsGoWander.World) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:30:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:30:00 GMT New Threads in Hoi An https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2019/10/new-threads-in-hoi-an Hoi An Ancient Town at nightHoi An Ancient Town at night Hoi An at night

Hoi An is a small ancient city near the coast in central Vietnam.  Its old buildings, narrow streets and colorful lanterns make for a lovely, quaint scene - until you add in thousands of tourists that is.  It reminded me a bit of Dubrovnik in that way.  Like Dubrovnik, it's still worth visiting in order to see it but it's a little hard to enjoy in a sea of humanity.  We stayed in a hotel located across the river from Hoi An on an island that was much more laid back even though it was only a short 10 minute walk into town.


Sunset on the River in Hoi AnSunset on the River in Hoi An

Sunset over the river

Hoi An is primarily known for its tailors.  There are hundreds of tailor shops there and you can get almost any article of clothing custom made in as little as 24 hours.  Walking around town we saw lots of families and couples running around in matching outfits that they had clearly had made for them.  I tried to get Barry to go for matching banana outfits, but he was having none of it.


Some of the interesting options in Hoi An

Some of the more interesting options available in Hoi An

Since it seems to be the thing to do here, I thought I'd give it a go.  After arriving in town, we visited 4 different shops that I had scoped out online (through reading articles, blog posts and TripAdvisor reviews).  In each shop we looked at the fabrics that they had available as well as some of the sample garments that they had on hand, asked about the process and the cost to make a theoretical pair of pants that I described to them, and how long it would take.  The estimates for my theoretical pants ranged from USD $25-95 depending on the shop and the fabric selected.  


My Son Cham RuinsMy Son Cham Ruins

Mỹ Sơn cultural heritage area near Hoi An

At all of the shops, there are women (yes pretty much all women) available to answer questions, take measurements, make design or fit suggestions, mark or pin clothes for adjustments, and ultimately close the deal.  These aren't the people that make the clothes, but they are the liaisons between customers and the people making the clothes.  In many cases, you never see the people who actually do the sewing behind the scenes.  The differences in the shops (and therefore the prices) have to do with the quality of the fit and finish, the time required to make the clothes, and the selection of fabrics that are available.  I wasn't looking for the cheapest place, but I was looking for somewhere that I felt comfortable and that would produce good quality clothing.


Enjoying a drink at the beach in Nha Trang

Enjoying a drink at the beach in Nha Trang

Of the 4 shops we visited, I eliminated 2 right out of the gate.  Mr. Xe's shop has consistently good reviews online but when we visited I felt like the people working there were kind of indifferent and the fabric selection was pretty limited.  Shine Tailor was the farthest from our hotel so I was a sweaty mess by the time I got there, and the extreme high pressure sales tactics put me off right away.  For a moment I thought she was going to lock us in and take my measurements by force!  I decided to try having a pair of pants made at Blue Eye Tailors and a blouse made at Be Be Tailors so I could compare the two experiences.  Be Be's quoted the highest price range for my theoretical pants, but they had a chiffon fabric that I loved at first sight.  Be Be's also has their workshop right on site (and in sight) - interestingly, the people making the clothes were mostly men.


Hue Main MarketHue Main Market

Street fruit market – that spiky fruit is called Durian and has a lovely aroma of rotting garbage.  It smells so badly that many hotels won’t allow it in their rooms and it is banned on the subway in Singapore.

The easiest way to do this is to have an article of clothing with you that you want to replicate, maybe with some small adjustments.  That way, you are certain that it will look good on you when it is finished.  Otherwise, you are left with finding a picture of something that you think will look good when it's all done.  You can either use the internet for this or you can use the catalogs that many shops have available (which are really just pictures taken off the internet). 


Colorful Incense SticksColorful Incense Sticks

Bundles of colorful incense sticks for sale

My experience with Blue Eye Tailors was kind of a dud, not because of the shop but because ultimately I didn't really like how the pants looked on me when they were finished (even though they fit just perfectly) and I didn't really know what to do to make them better.  Oh well, pants are always tough for me anyway.  My blouse took longer, requiring 3 fittings to get it just right, but I love how it turned out.  Afterwards I decided to get a dress made at Be Be's as well which I also love.  At the end of the day, I spent USD $45 for the dud pants (maybe I'll see if I can figure out how to do something with them after I get home), USD $45 for the chiffon blouse and USD $135 for the 100% silk dress.  Not exactly dirt cheap but certainly less than I would have paid at home and I didn't mind paying more for better quality.


New dress!

Kind of a lousy picture, but this is my new dress!

Many people opt to get tailored suits made in Hoi An.  I hope to never wear a suit again, otherwise that would be a great way to get something that would fit perfectly and look great for work.  At the end of the day, Hoi An was definitely worth a visit even if it was mobbed with tourists.  Based on all of the construction going on around town, it only stands to get busier from here!

Imperial Tomb in HueImperial Tomb in Hue

One of the Imperial tombs near Hue



(LetsGoWander.World) 2019 Asia Tour custom clothing having clothes made Hoi An Southeast Asia tailors Vietnam https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2019/10/new-threads-in-hoi-an Mon, 14 Oct 2019 08:30:07 GMT
Bus to Nowhere https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2019/9/bus-to-nowhere Waiting on the bus to nowhere Waiting on the bus to nowhere

As I am writing this, we are sitting by ourselves in a 1970's era bus parked behind some random building in Dong Hoi, Vietnam waiting for the bus to finally leave for our next destination of Phong Nha.  The bus ride is supposed to take about an hour and a half, but since boarding about an hour ago we have stopped at a restaurant so the driver could have lunch, driven across town and then parked behind this building with the driver promising to return in an hour.  There aren't sufficient language skills on either side to find out why we have to wait here an hour or whether we will actually depart after that time.  So we wait.  We didn't really have anything else to do today so as long as we actually get there sometime today, all is good.  But I am getting ahead of myself...  

Lan Ha BayTraditional fishing boat on Lan Ha Bay Traditional fishing boat on Lan Ha Bay

After spending about a week in crazy, busy Hanoi, we took 3 different tours that allowed us to explore some more of northern Vietnam.  The first tour was a relatively luxurious 3 day boat cruise in Lan Ha Bay.  Halong Bay is the most famous area for this activity, but in recent years it has become overrun with tourism and since we weren't looking for a booze cruise, we decided to go to Halong's quieter neighbor Lan Ha Bay.  The scenery is much the same, but Lan Ha takes a bit longer to get to.

Boat cruise in Lan Ha bayBoat cruise in Lan Ha bay Boat cruise on Lan Ha Bay

The boat had about 20 individual cabins, more spacious than your standard cruise ship cabin.  The first day we spent on a bus and then a ferry to get to the launch point for the boat and then another 3 hours cruising out to Lan Ha Bay.  We finished up the day by kayaking around the bay and into a private little lagoon that was only accessible through a little tunnel when the tide was not at its highest level. 

Kayaking in Lan Ha BayKayaking in Lan Ha Bay Kayaking in Lan Ha Bay

I imagine that the bay may occasionally see storms, but most of the time the sea and the air is quite still so the kayaking was easy and enjoyable.  The other guests on the boat were quite a varied bunch with groups from Europe, Russia, India, and Mexico among others.  The second day we spent hiking on Cat Ba island and the third day we rented bikes and cycled to a local village on the island.  

Rice fields in northern VietnamRice fields in northern Vietnam Rice fields at dawn

The second tour was something that I wanted to do which was a photography tour in Pu Luong nature reserve.  Our photographer guide picked us up at our hotel and off we went for another long drive to the reserve.  This was an area with small indigenous villages and lots of terraced rice fields. 

Terraced rice fieldsTerraced rice fields Terraced rice fields


Traditional stilt home where we had lunchTraditional stilt home where we had lunch Traditional wooden stilt home where we had a delicious lunch

The rice was just ready to be harvested so it was a nice golden color.  I wanted to get some of those iconic shots of the terraced rice fields with the workers in their traditional conical hats with a water buffalo grazing nearby.  As it turns out, it takes a lot of work to get some of those shots!  We spent a couple of days trekking through muddy rice fields looking for just the right shot and spent an enjoyable night at a local lodge, eating dinner with our guide and laughing over many tiny cups of plum wine.

Traditional Tay village where our homestay was locatedTraditional Tay village where our homestay was located Traditional Tay village where our homestay was located

Our third tour took us up near the border with China to visit some caves and an impressive waterfall, and then take a boat ride through a national park.  On this tour we stayed in two different homestays in traditional wooden stilt homes.  The first one was in a typical village where the primary activities were rice farming and making incense sticks.  

Woman harvesting riceWoman harvesting rice Women harvesting rice

What impressed me most about these areas that we visited is that the villages were very traditional and the economics of tourism has not taken over (yet).  There are no huge tour buses, no cheesy souvenir shops, no tourist restaurants - really nothing beyond the homestays that have popped up over the last several years.  Foreigners are still a novelty and not yet an annoyance.

Ban Gioc waterfallBan Gioc waterfall Ban Gioc waterfall near the border with China

After returning to Hanoi one last time, we caught a train the following morning to Dong Hoi which brings us back to this bus.  Since I started writing, the driver has returned and a few other passengers have joined us.  After trolling around town for another 20 minutes looking for more passengers and a quick stop at a gas station, we are finally on our way.  Phew!







(LetsGoWander.World) 2019 Asia Tour Southeast Asia Traveling Vietnam https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2019/9/bus-to-nowhere Wed, 25 Sep 2019 10:58:43 GMT
The Chaos of Hanoi https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2019/9/the-chaos-of-hanoi Ah Vietnam...  What a contrast to Japan.  The Japanese are a quiet, reserved bunch.  Even the cities are quiet - traffic moves in an organized fashion with no need for honking and certainly nothing so undignified as shouting.  Even the trains run quietly.  Arriving in Hanoi, we took a taxi to our hotel which is located in the Old Quarter - the busy urban core of the city.  

Hanoi Traffic JamHanoi Traffic Jam

The chaos of Hanoi

Oh my, it's been a few years since I've been in the heart of a large city in SE Asia.  I had forgotten what (organized??) chaos that it was.  After checking into the hotel, we went for a walk.  In the city center, motor bikes seem to outnumber cars by about 20 to 1.  In fact, in the narrow streets among all of the bikes and scooters, even the smallest cars look huge and out of place by comparison. 

Busy Intersection in HanoiBusy Intersection in Hanoi

Motor bikes.  Everywhere.

None of the intersections have stop signs, a few have stoplights - some of which even work but are ignored by many drivers.  So, at every intersection this elaborate weave takes place where everyone eventually gets where they are going.  Add into the mix bicycles and pedestrians - who are forced to walk in the street because all of the sidewalk space is taken up with scooter parking, vendors selling their wares, and impromptu restaurants with patrons squatting on tiny plastic stools - and, well you can just imagine...  Crossing the street is like a real-life game of Frogger.

Woman sells flowers from her bike in HanoiWoman sells flowers from her bike in Hanoi

A woman selling flowers from the back of her bicycle.


Can you say fire hazard?Can you say fire hazard?

It’s amazing that this all somehow works.

Staying in Hanoi for 6 days, we've spent our time exploring the city, booking a few tours and planning the rest of our time in Vietnam.  There are some temples, parks and museums worth seeing in Hanoi but honestly the thing I like best is just walking around.  The city has an energy of its own and everywhere you look is something surprising, entertaining or just plain curious. 

A walk around the lake in HanoiA walk around the lake in Hanoi

A walk around the lake in the morning

Every morning, we have gotten into the habit of walking around a nearby lake after breakfast.  We are not the only ones - every morning there are people in the park doing Tai Chi, playing badminton, line dancing, ballroom dancing, jogging... or just people watching.  On the weekends, the main road around the park is closed off all day to accommodate even more people enjoying their day off and in the evenings the whole scene takes on kind of a party atmosphere.

Hanoi parkHanoi park

Saturday evening in the park

Temple in HanoiTemple in Hanoi

A temple in the middle of the city

Traveling in Vietnam is certainly easy on the wallet.  A nice hotel room here in the heart of Hanoi runs us about $50.  In other towns, we'll pay half that or even less.  Food is plentiful and also cheap - the trick is figuring out where to go and what to order, and then of course how to eat it properly.  We took a walking food tour for a few hours with a local university kid who took us to several different spots and introduced us to many things we hadn't tried yet.  In the evenings, we've gotten stuck in a routine of walking down the block from our hotel to get a beer and a Bánh mì sandwich at a local cafe on a busy corner with great people watching.  Here, dinner costs us about $5.

A Narrow Market Alley in HanoiA Narrow Market Alley in Hanoi

A narrow alley in the Old Quarter

In the maze of streets of the Old Quarter, Google Maps is a great tool not just for navigating but for finding our way back to a shop or a restaurant that we previously visited.  One of the benefits of big brother location tracking is that I can scroll back to a certain day and trace my movements and see when we visited and how long we stayed in order to see where we had lunch so that we can find it again.  That feature has come in handy more than once.

Carved Fruit in HanoiCarved Fruit in Hanoi

Women selling carved fruits in Hanoi

We have booked a few organized tours to explore northern Vietnam some more over the next week before we head south from Hanoi.  Vietnam is shaping up to be a good time!

By the way, in case you were paying attention to our original plans which took us to China after Japan, we decided to nix China from our itinerary.  We would have had to go to Hong Kong for several days to get a China visa and the protests would have made that somewhat difficult, so we decided to change our plans and skip ahead to Vietnam.



(LetsGoWander.World) 2019 Asia Tour Hanoi Southeast Asia Traveling Vietnam https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2019/9/the-chaos-of-hanoi Wed, 18 Sep 2019 12:49:53 GMT
The Horror and Beauty of Hiroshima https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2019/9/the-horror-and-beauty-of-hiroshima View of HiroshimaView of Hiroshima over the river

View of the river and the city from our hotel in Hiroshima

We took the train to Hiroshima and stayed at a hotel along the river.  This was the first town where we noticed a sharp decrease in English – both spoken and written.  We make do with pointing and gesturing and the Japanese continue to speak to us in Japanese as if we can understand them, but they also do some pointing and gesturing of their own to get their point across.  Somehow this all works.  The only tricky thing is the food.  Without anything written in English, our best hope is a menu with a few pictures.  We may not know exactly what we’re ordering, but at least we’ll have an idea.  The Google Translate app sometimes helps with Japanese characters, but more often it just confuses, especially if the text is written vertically as it often is.  After all, I really don’t know what a “chicken wrinkle” might be (although after ordering it, I’ve found that the most literal interpretation is often the best).

Yummy bowl of Udon Noodles

We visited the Peace Memorial Garden and Museum which honors and memorializes the victims of the atom bomb.  It was both very moving and very disturbing.  Hiroshima was selected as the primary target because of the damage the bomb would inflict because the city is very flat (but surrounded by mountains) and it had not been heavily targeted in earlier bombing missions.  The scope of the devastation caused by that bomb was horrifying.  I admit, I hadn’t even heard of a 5th degree burn before this visit.  The personal stories about that day and the ensuing days, months and years are excruciating to read.  There are a few pictures of what Hiroshima looked like before the bomb and many of what it looked like after.  There was almost nothing left – between the bomb blast and the ensuing firestorm, there were only a few buildings that weren’t flattened.

Atomic Dome BuildingAtomic Dome Building

The Atomic Dome Building

One such building has now become known as the Atomic Dome.  The bomb exploded almost right above this building and so it was somewhat protected from the blast.  The Japanese ultimately decided to keep this building in its ruined state as a reminder.

Hiroshima Memorial ParkHiroshima Memorial Park

View from the Peace Memorial Museum

While in Hiroshima, we ate at a noodle shop with delicious Udon noodle bowls.  We talked a little bit to the owner of the shop who asked us where we were from.  I really wasn’t sure what to expect when we told him we were from the US, but he was very friendly and welcoming to us.  He said that he sometimes does guided tours of the memorial and he showed us a notebook of pictures and text that he had put together.  In it, he expresses his wish for lasting peace, elimination of all nuclear weapons in the world, and also for the Japanese to remember both the bombing as well as the role that Japan played in the lead up to WWII.  He fears that history will repeat itself if we all do not remember and appreciate the lessons of the past.  I was glad that he shared this with us – he was very earnest in his desire to spread his message of peace.

Torii Gate on MiyajimaTorii Gate on Miyajima

Entrance to the shrine on Miyajima

While in Hiroshima, we also took a train and ferry to Miyajima Island.  It is most well-known for it’s great orange Torii Gate which is partially submerged at high tide.  As often seems to be the case when we go to see some landmark in almost any country, it was under renovation and covered with scaffolding. 


Strolling down the main visitor area of Miyajima

Little boy and a deerLittle boy and a deer

Little boy delighted by his new friend

Shrine on MiyajimaFloating Temple on Miyajima

The Itsukushima shrine on Miyajima

There is also a shrine which is surrounded by water at high tide.  Lots and lots of people wandered around the shrine, so we headed into the hills where there were several temples and hundreds of Buddha statues of all sizes.  This was a magical place up among the trees and mysteriously devoid of visitors who I guess all stayed down in the main visitor area.  If I were to come back, I would stay at least a night on Miyajima.  There are hundreds of old stone lanterns that line the shore and I imagine that the island would be even better in the evening with the lanterns illuminating the walkway after all of the day trippers have headed home.

I wasn’t sure of what to expect of Miyajima, but I was very pleasantly surprised.  It ended up being one of my favorite places that we’ve visited in Japan.  Below are some more pictures of Miyajima - it was hard to narrow it down to just a few.  Enjoy!

Gate to Miyajima TempleGate to Miyajima Temple

Temple up in the hills on Miyajima

Buddhas with HatsBuddhas with Hats

Buddhas with hats

Buddhas on MiyajimaBuddhas on Miyajima

More Buddhas with hats

Baby Buddha on MiyajimaBaby Buddha on Miyajima

One more Buddha with a hat

Rows of Tiny BuddhasRows of Tiny Buddhas

Rows and rows of tiny Buddhas


One of the old stone lanterns on the shore of Miyajima island


(LetsGoWander.World) 2019 Asia Tour Asia Atom Bomb Hiroshima Japan Travel https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2019/9/the-horror-and-beauty-of-hiroshima Wed, 04 Sep 2019 08:13:57 GMT
Sizzling Japan https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2019/8/sizzling-japan  


When we stepped off the plane almost two weeks ago, made our way through immigration and customs and then went to look for a train to downtown Tokyo, I was immediately struck by the heat.  I knew beforehand that the high temperatures would be in the 90s, but I hadn't accounted for the humidity on top of that.  The first few days, the heat felt absolutely oppressive and inescapable until we began to acclimate a bit.  We have spent these first two weeks in Tokyo and Kyoto.  We decided that it would be easier to use these cities as hubs to explore the surrounding areas rather than moving every 2-3 days.  

Temples, Shrines and Gardens

Nikko National ParkNikko National Park Sacred bridge in Nikko

I love traveling in Asia because there are opportunities for great photographs everywhere you turn.  I love the gardens in the middle of the city that feel like a quiet oasis.  The temples and shrines set among the forested hills are also a favorite. 

Japanese garden near KyotoJapanese garden near KyotoJapanese garden near Kyoto A garden that once belonged to a Japanese film star

Peaceful park in the middle of TokyoPeaceful park in the middle of Tokyo A garden in the midst of Tokyo

Couple strolling through the parkCouple strolling through the park A couple strolling through a garden in Tokyo

I’ll try not to bore you too much with endless pictures of temples, but here were two of my favorites.

Nikko is a national park outside of Tokyo.  We made the mistake of visiting on a national holiday so we had lots of company.  Part of the park where many temples (Buddhism) and shrines (Shintoism) are located is designated as a UNESCO area.  It was a special experience to hike up among the huge redwoods to visit the sacred ancient structures.

Nikko National ParkNikko National Park A richly decorated temple in Nikko

Nikko National ParkNikko National Park A roofline among the trees

Nikko National ParkNikko National Park An ancient gate

Another favorite was the Fushimi Inari shrine is located in southern Kyoto.  Even though it is in the midst of a very populated area, it is a sprawling network of paths leading through the wooded forests of sacred Mount Inari straddled by thousands of gates.

Fushimi Inari ShrineFushimi Inari Shrine

Walking the paths of Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari ShrineFushimi Inari Shrine

Torii gates straddling the temple paths

Fushimi Inari ShrineFushimi Inari Shrine

One of the many foxes of Fushimi Inari

We also visited another UNESCO park located in Nara which is about an hour from Kyoto by train.  In addition to many temples, the park is home to hundreds of deer which roam around freely. 

Tourists and Deer in NaraTourists and Deer in Nara Temples and deer

Vendors sell small stacks of cakes to feed the deer for 150 yen.  We watched in amusement as the deer would bob their heads (mimicking the ubiquitous Japanese head bow) in order to receive a snack.  One of the deer tried to snack on the Lonely Planet book that Barry was carrying.

Shopping Deer in NaraShopping Deer in Nara Shopping for a snack

Little girl bowing to deerLittle girl bowing to deer A little girl bows to a buck but keeps him in her sights

Barry and the prayer wheelBarry and the prayer wheel

Barry at the Prayer Wheel

Posing deerPosing deer Poser

Shopping, Eating and Riding Trains

In both Tokyo and Kyoto we have stayed near the main train stations (which serve as hubs for both local and regional trains as well as hubs for the subways) because it makes getting around much easier and because there tends to be lots of shops and restaurants close to train stations.  In both of these cities, the main train stations have had a huge underground complex of restaurants, cafes, shops and department stores.  In both cities, it took us a few days to navigate our way around these areas without getting hopelessly lost.

All of the department stores have one or two floors dedicated to food where you can buy just about anything to take home (or wherever) for dinner.  These stores are busy pretty much all of the time, but they are absolutely packed during the evening rush hour.  With all of the restaurants and food available for sale, I have become convinced that the Japanese don’t actually cook at home!

Dessert section of a department storeDessert section of a department store One of many food-oriented department stores

Desserts for sale

Pub in the old black market areaPub in the old black market area A pub located in a former black market alley near Tokyo

Shibuya CrossingShibuya CrossingShibuya Crossing A busy commercial street near Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo

Japanese trains and subways are a great way to get around the city and the country as a whole.  We took a Shinkansen train – which is a high speed bullet train – from Tokyo to Kyoto.  It was like watching a video on fast forward out the window.  Our experience so far is that the trains and subways run exactly on time.  In fact, we watched a show about the Tokyo train system and the schedules are planned down to 5 second intervals in order to maximize their efficiency.

A train station in Kyoto

This morning we headed out early since it was expected to rain later on and we found ourselves boarding a train at the peak of the morning commute.  If you can picture a train that is full (think of an airport train on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving), by Asian standard that train would maybe be half-full.  As long as there is someone left standing on the platform that wishes to board the train, there is room to be made.  You may not be able to breathe properly, but everyone will be able to get to their destination.  After that experience, I understood the reason behind these signs on the platform.

Tomorrow we take another Shinkansen train to Hiroshima where we will visit the memorial to the victims of the bombing.  I have heard that it is very moving and I am looking forward to seeing it.  Plus, it will be a bit cooler there than Kyoto has been!  Until next time...

Barry and I overlooking Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo

Barry and I overlooking the Shibuya Crossing


(LetsGoWander.World) 2019 Asia Tour Asia Japan Kyoto Shrines Temples Tokyo Traveling https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2019/8/sizzling-japan Mon, 19 Aug 2019 08:33:54 GMT
Hitting the Road Again https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2019/8/hitting-the-road-again Hello!  It has been a long while since you all have heard from me, so let me start by apologizing for that.  For whatever reason, I wasn't feeling motivated to write a post so I didn't.  We spent much of 2018 either hanging around home or traveling to places where we could bring our dog, Cisco.  He was getting older and so we wanted to spend as much time with him as we could so we didn't plan any big trips.  Sadly, in December he died rather suddenly - probably the result of a stroke or something like that.  It was definitely a shock for us and although we found ourselves suddenly free to do whatever we wanted, we just wished that he was still here with us.

One of my favorite pictures of CiscoOne of my favorite pictures of Cisco

One of my favorite pictures of Cisco


So, in May of 2019 we decided to head back to Europe for another bike tour.  This time we flew to Amsterdam and then cut across the Netherlands over to the Rhine river.  Following the Rhine to Basel, Switzerland, we cut over to Geneva and picked up the Rhone river which we followed all the way to the delta on the Mediterranean coast.  Then, we followed a couple of canals through southern France and ended our trip in Bordeaux.  In the early part of the trip, we got rained on quite a bit and then in the later part of the trip we experienced some very hot and uncomfortable temperatures in southern France.  We also passed through some of our favorite wine regions of France including Alsace, Chateauneuf du Pape, Languedoc, Medoc, St. Emilion and the rest of Bordeaux.  All in all, it was really a great trip - remarkably free of problems and much less challenging logistically than our first trip through Europe.  We still missed Cisco though.


At the moment, I am writing this post in San Francisco as we are on a layover before hopping on an airplane to Tokyo where we start on a 4 month tour of Asia (without the bicycles this time).  We will spend the first month traveling around Japan, then the next 2 months in China, and wrap up the trip with a month in Vietnam.  It's been a while since we've been to Asia and I'm excited to see these three countries that I have never been to before (other than the Narita airport in Tokyo).  I am going to do my best to post regularly on this trip.  You can also follow us on here on one of my new favorite websites called Polarsteps.


Below are just a few pictures of our last bike tour and here is a link to the video I made of the tour.  Stay tuned for posts from our latest adventure!

Arriving at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam and getting ready to head out


Keukenhof Tulip Gardens outside Amsterdam


The beautiful UNESCO city of Strasbourg


Chamonix, France


Rainy day in France


All set to go in front of our B&B in Arnhem


Germany on the left and Switzerland on the right


My favorite wine region


Lyon, France


Riding along the Mediterranean Sea


Provence, France




(LetsGoWander.World) 2019 bike cycling Europe France Germany Netherlands Tour touring https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2019/8/hitting-the-road-again Wed, 07 Aug 2019 08:38:19 GMT
New Zealand: Bringing the Tour to a Close https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2018/3/new-zealand-bringing-the-tour-to-a-close

Watch the third video of our New Zealand tour featuring some spectacular scenes from the south island.

Our time in New Zealand is quickly coming to an end and while we are happy to be heading home soon, we will miss this little country with its verdant hills, lush rainforests, imposing mountain ranges, melodious birds, tiny towns and friendly locals.  

Along the West Coast Wilderness TrailAlong the West Coast Wilderness Trail

The 2 ½ days that we spent on the West Coast Wilderness Trail was definitely a highlight

This has been a good trip for us and we've had our share of ups and downs (both literally and figuratively!).  It has been about a month since my last post, and since that time we have spent more time off the bikes than on them, taking some time to do some kayaking, hiking and sightseeing.

Swingbridge on the West Coast Wilderness trailSwingbridge on the West Coast Wilderness trail

Suspension bridge along the West Coast Wilderness Trail

We ended up riding about 1500 miles (2500 km) in total which was a lot less than we had originally planned for this trip.  Although New Zealand is ideal for cycle touring in that it has tons of spectacular sights and scenery packed into a relatively small area, the roads and the traffic made the riding less than pleasant at times.  

Along the coast near PunakaikiAlong the coast near Punakaiki

A scenic rest stop along the west coast

There were places where we were able to take advantage of cycle trails or backroads which were a joy to ride on, but in other places, there are few (if any) alternative routes and so we would find ourselves on narrow roads with no shoulders and plenty of tour buses, logging trucks and camper vans.  So, there were several parts along our route where we decided to skip ahead by bus instead of playing Russian roulette on the roads.  There were certainly lots of cycle tourists that seemed completely unfazed by the roads and the traffic - I say good for them, but I'm not one of them.  I prefer to be able to enjoy the scenery rather than to spend every minute looking in my mirror to see what's coming up behind us next.

Pancake RocksPancake Rocks

Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki

The last of the cycling that we did was up the west coast of the south island.  This is one of the more remote areas of the country with only one road through it but it's also one of the most popular areas to visit for tourists.  So once we reached Punakaiki, I declared to Barry that I was done riding my bike in New Zealand and luckily he agreed with me.  From there, we took a bus to Nelson, which we used as a base to explore Abel Tasman National Park - New Zealand's smallest national park, but arguably one of the most beautiful.

Kayaking in Abel TasmanKayaking in Abel Tasman

Exploring Shag Harbor in Abel Tasman National Park


Kayaking in Abel TasmanKayaking in Abel Tasman

We had nice lunch prepared by our guide here

We spent one day kayaking in the most northern part of the park and then another 3 days hiking the 25-mile coastal track through the park, spending one night at an eco-lodge and another at a campground along the way.  The coastal track winds through native forests, offering occasional glimpses of beautiful coastal vistas along the way.  Here are a few pictures of our time in Abel Tasman, which was definitely a highlight of the trip.

Aqua Blue Waters of Abel Tasman Marine ReserveAqua Blue Waters of Abel Tasman Marine Reserve

A beautiful view from a look out along the Coastal Track


Crossing the Arawoa InletCrossing the Arawoa Inlet

Barry wading across the Awaroa Inlet at low tide


Hiking the Abel Tasman Coastal TrackHiking the Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Hiking along a deserted beach on the Coastal Track


Views along Abel Tasman Coastal TrackViews along Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Another view from a lookout along the trail in Abel Tasman

After Nelson, we moved on to Picton where we waited out the second cyclone to hit the south island in 2 weeks (did I mention that New Zealand weather can be crazy at times?).  Picton is located in the Marlborough region and makes a great base for exploring both the Marlborough wineries (famous for their Sauvignon Blanc wines) and the beautiful Marlborough Sounds.  We signed up for a full-day wine tour with a bunch of rowdy Europeans which involved visiting 5-6 different wineries (who's counting anyway) and tasting 4-5 different wines at each winery.    It's funny, but I always thought that those bike/wine tours that they offer in Europe sounded like such fun, but now having done both bike touring and wine touring, I gotta say that the two can't possibly mix well.  

Marlborough SoundsMarlborough Sounds

Marlborough Sounds

The next day, we hiked one of the more remote parts of the Queen Charlotte track which winds through the Marlborough Sounds by taking a water taxi out in the morning and back in the afternoon and with that adventure behind us, our time on the south island was complete and we headed back across the Cook Strait by ferry.

Marlborough SoundsMarlborough Sounds

A view of the Marlborough Sounds from the Queen Charlotte track


Sunrise at the Picton HarborSunrise at the Picton Harbor

Picton harbor at sunrise

Since arriving back on the north island, we have spent a couple of weeks driving around to some areas that we didn't visit previously including a trip all the way up to the north end of the island and a relaxing stay in Whangerei Heads.  We are now spending a week in Auckland before heading back home.

Foggy morning at Cape ReingaFoggy morning at Cape Reinga

Foggy view at Cape Reinga


Sunset view from our AirBNB in Whangerei HeadsSunset view from our AirBNB in Whangerei Heads  

Sunset over the Whangerei Heads

I hope you have enjoyed following us through New Zealand.  If you are thinking of planning a trip to New Zealand, here are a few thoughts/tips for you to consider:

  • January and February are the peak months for travel in New Zealand.  New Zealand school children are out of school from mid-December to roughly the end of January, so many Kiwi’s go on vacation during this time.  February is a very popular time for foreigners to travel to New Zealand, with many Chinese tourists coming around the Chinese New Year.  Prices go up considerably during this time and booking accommodations and tours becomes more challenging.  December (prior to Christmas) turned out to be a great time for traveling in New Zealand.
  • Bring clothing for just about any kind of weather because you can get anything from blazing sun to gusty winds to flooding rains to snow at any time of year.  The best plan is to dress in layers so that you can adjust to changing conditions throughout the day.
  • Although the south island is most popular for tourists (and full of striking scenery), there are many areas of the north island that are quite beautiful and may be less crowded during peak season.  I particularly enjoyed the north part of the island (north of Auckland), the Coromandel Peninsula, and the central part of the island around Taupo and Rotorua.
  • If you are planning to drive in New Zealand (as most people do), take into consideration that many roads are narrow and windy and can be a somewhat exhausting to drive on.  Although the de facto speed limit is 100 kph (60 mph) unless otherwise posted, there will be many places where you probably won’t feel comfortable actually driving that fast (although many locals drive even faster).  When the weather is bad, roads are sometimes closed for short (or long) periods caused by land slides, fallen trees and flooding, and alternatives may not be available.


(LetsGoWander.World) 2017 new zealand tour bike touring cycling new zealand west coast https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2018/3/new-zealand-bringing-the-tour-to-a-close Thu, 08 Mar 2018 07:23:57 GMT
And Then it Rained… https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2018/2/and-then-it-rained View of Queenstown from the top of the gondolaView of Queenstown from the top of the gondola

A birds-eye view of Queenstown from the top of the gondola

Many parts of the south island have been in a drought for many months.  Everything looks pretty parched and temperatures have been above normal as well.  After several sweltering days visiting Queenstown, Arrowtown and Wanaka, we decided to take a bus to the west coast.  

Taking a rest in ArrowtownTaking a rest in Arrowtown

Taking a break in scenic Arrowtown

On the morning of our departure, remnants of a tropical cyclone in the Tasman Sea started moving over the south island and broke the streak of hot, dry weather.  

View out of the bus window during huge rainstormView out of the bus window during huge rainstorm

A view out the bus window – nothing but rain!

I imagine the bus ride would have been quite scenic if we could have seen anything outside the windows.  As we went, the rain picked up until we were driving through standing water with impromptu waterfalls cascading across the road.  When we arrived in the town of Haast, we were informed that the road was now closed in both directions.

Stuck in Haast for two daysStuck in Haast for two days

Going nowhere in Haast…

The west coast of the south island is quite remote.  There are many areas that remain virtually inaccessible.  State highway 6 is the only road that runs up and down the coast so when it is closed, communities are cut off.  Additionally, most of the area has no cell phone service.  After sitting on the bus for a few hours, it became apparent that we would be spending the night in Haast.  

A field trip to the coast at Haast

A field trip to the coast near Haast

Haast calls itself a township, but I'd say that's a bit generous.  There is not much more than a gas station, a couple of motels, a pub, and a small store.  In addition to our bus, there were at least 5 other buses and a whole bunch of cars stranded in Haast, totaling about 700 people which is more than twice the normal population.  The motels were all full, so it looked like we would be sleeping on the bus.  Later in the evening, the rain had stopped and the weather had cleared some so Barry and I started scouting around for a place to pitch our tent which sounded like a better plan than sleeping on the bus.

Town of Franz JosefTown of Franz Josef

The town of Franz Josef after a rain

Just as we were getting ready to implement the tent plan, a woman pulled up in a truck offering one more cottage to rent on her farm.  She had already taken a few people from our bus with her earlier, and no one had taken her up on the last cottage so we jumped at the chance.  As it turned out, it was a good thing that we didn't set up our tent.  That night, the wind picked up and blew all night long up to speeds of 90 mph or more.  I'm pretty sure our tent would have ended up as a pile of nylon shreds.  As it was, I kept expecting the roof to blow off the cottage all night long.  An old church in the area was completely destroyed by the winds that night and road crews had many downed trees to clear in addition to the landslides that had closed the roads the day before.

View of Franz Josef glacierView of Franz Josef glacier

A view of Franz Josef glacier through the clouds

As it turned out, we ended up spending another night in Haast and finally were able to leave around noon on the third day.  We were pretty fortunate though - there were other towns along the west coast that were without power for several days and a group of drivers got stranded along a stretch of road between some downed trees and a landslide.  Also, the people of Haast were great hosts to their multitude of unexpected guests.

Rainy day leaving Franz JosefRainy day leaving Franz Josef

Rainy weather along our route


Downed trees from stormDowned trees from storm

Crews are working on clearing trees from the road

Since then, we have been treated to plenty of rain along the west coast which is covered in temperate rain forest.  I realize now that when the forecast says “50% chance of rain,” it means that there is a 100% chance that it will rain 50% of the time.

On the road to Franz JosefOn the road to Franz Josef  

Views along SH6 on the west coast

Next, we tackle the West Coast Wilderness trail before heading north towards the beautiful beaches of Abel Tasman National Park.

(LetsGoWander.World) 2017 new zealand tour bike touring cycling franz josef haast new zealand south island west coast https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2018/2/and-then-it-rained Tue, 06 Feb 2018 06:22:40 GMT
Gems of Southern New Zealand https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2018/1/gems-of-southern-new-zealand At a rest stop in the CatlinsAt a rest stop in the Catlins

At a rest point along the road in the Catlins

Many Kiwis will tell you that the south island is the "real New Zealand."  There are many beautiful areas on both islands, but I see their point.  The southern end of the south island has an incredible amount of geographical diversity - from rolling plains to wetlands to rainforests to fjords to endless sandy beaches.  

Spectacular view of Tautuku BeachSpectacular view of Tautuku Beach

Spectacular view of Tautuku Beach

On our way out of Dunedin, we hooked up with the Southern Scenic Route which took us around the southern end of the island, through the Catlins, Invercargill and up to Te Anau.  Much of this route is a bit off the beaten path for tourists, so it was relatively quiet.

Riding into Kaka PointRiding into Kaka Point

Riding into Kaka Point

The Catlins is a rugged and sparsely populated area with rocky coastlines, stunning beaches and native forests.  A couple of days outside of Dunedin, we stayed in a tiny beach town called Kaka Point where the winds were blowing like crazy.  

View from our place in Kaka PointView from our place in Kaka Point

The view from our place in Kaka Point

Our host had a couple of self-contained units that she rented out in her house and she was very kind to offer two complete strangers that rolled into town on bicycles to use her car to visit the Nugget Point lighthouse several miles further along the coast (not that we couldn't have ridden our bikes there, but given the winds and the steep hill to get there we wouldn't have).  As it turned out, I am quite happy that we visited Nugget Point - it's one of the iconic spots of the area that I have since seen featured in videos and advertisements about the area.

Nugget Point LighthouseNugget Point Lighthouse

The Nugget Point Lighthouse near Kaka Point

Another highlight from the Catlins was Cathedral Cave.  It was about a 5-mile round trip hike from where we were staying (no friendly stranger offered up their car this time) and a visit to the cave has to be timed around low tide because at other times the caves are inaccessible.  

Cathedral Cave BeachCathedral Cave Beach

The beach at Cathedral Cave

As you walk along a wide expansive beach, you come across several huge openings which appear to be separate caves but in reality they are all interconnected caves that have been carved out by the ocean.  It's possible to explore the whole network of caves if you are feeling adventurous (and you have a flashlight and sufficient time).

Cathedral CaveCathedral Cave

One of the cave openings at Cathedral Cave

Southern New Zealand has been in a drought and our visit coincided with some of the highest temperatures ever recorded in the area.  This was one of those days where I felt like my skin was on fire by the end of the day - not sunburned mind you, just baked to a crisp.  We were lucky to stay at a guest cottage on a large farm located on the southern coast.  

Garden Cottage - Home for a nightGarden Cottage - Home for a night

The Garden Cottage was built in the 1930’s and moved from a nearby village to Christine and Colin’s farm about 30 years ago.

Our hosts, Christine and Colin, were having a nice beach day with their family and were kind to include us.  All that was required on our part was to sit in the shade and watch the dolphins surf the incoming waves.  It was the perfect thing to do on such a hot day.  Later, Christine and Colin invited us to have dinner with them as well which was a treat.  The large farm has been in Colin's family since the mid 1800's when his ancestors came over from Scotland by boat (not that they had a lot of other transportation options at the time).  Although all beaches in New Zealand are technically open to the public, this one is only accessible through their land or by boat so we had the place to ourselves.  

Waipapa Point LighthouseWaipapa Point Lighthouse

The next morning, Christine drove us to Waipapa Point which is one of her favorite spots.  I can see why.

Once we reached Invercargill, we booked a day trip to Stewart Island which is off the southern coast.  There is a small town on Stewart Island with some permanent residents, but most of the scenic island is accessible only by hiking trails.  

Oban, Stewart IslandOban, Stewart Island

The harbor at Oban, Stewart Island

Our morning flight was canceled due to heavy fog, so we ended up going over to the island by ferry and coming back later in the afternoon by airplane once the fog had cleared.  After arriving on Stewart Island, we took another ferry to the small island of Ulva which is a sanctuary for many native New Zealand bird species.  The birds of New Zealand are one of the country's best assets and on this beautiful island we spotted about 8 species including the New Zealand parakeet and the Stewart Island weka.

Parrot on Ulva IslandNew Zealand Parrakeet on Ulva Island

New Zealand parakeet on Ulva Island

Looking for birds on Ulva IslandLooking for birds on Ulva Island

Exploring Ulva Island

After leaving Invercargill, our route started to take us into more mountainous terrain until we reached Te Anau which is a small resort town perched on the side of the New Zealand’s second largest lake. 

Wetlands near Te AnauWetlands near Te Anau

Overlooking a wetlands area along the Southern Scenic Route

Te Anau is known as the gateway to the beautiful Fiordland National Park which we visited on a full day tour to Milford Sound.  We were very lucky to visit on a day after it had rained heavily the night before (resulting in many temporary waterfalls that dry up within a day) and the sun even made an appearance for us.  The Fiordland National Park tends to get overshadowed by Milford Sound, but it covers an enormous area and would be a wonderful place to explore in more depth.

Mirror Lakes at Fiorland National ParkMirror Lakes at Fiorland National Park

Mirror Lakes, Fiorland National Park

Milford Sound (which we learned is actually a fjord) is the most accessible of the of the southern fjords as it is reachable by road.  Driving in on that road is an experience in itself – the road goes through a tunnel which was bored through a mountain at a 10% grade.  I read that when they were boring the tunnel and it would rain heavily, the water would pool in the western end of the tunnel until they were able to punch through to the other side.  Given that it rains somewhere around 7 meters per year there, I can only imagine what a headache that would have been.

Milford SoundMilford Sound

It’s hard to get a sense of the scale of the mountains and waterfalls in Milford Sound

Milford SoundMilford Sound

The opening of Milford Sound from the Tasman Sea

Given the potentially heavy traffic on that road as well as the challenging terrain, I would imagine that most bike tourists get to Milford Sound the way that we did – by bus.  However, we did pass one lonely guy with his bike fully loaded pushing his pedals at a snail’s pace up that steep road headed out of Milford Sound.  I’ll bet riding up that steep, dark tunnel was fun for him (um, no thanks).

Milford SoundMilford Sound

Seals hanging out in Milford Sound

Our next major stop is Queenstown which should be both beautiful and over-run with tourists.  Queenstown is something of an adrenalin junkie’s wonderland, but I think we’ll skip the bungee jumping and sky diving for now.

Megan and Barry at Milford SoundMegan and Barry at Milford Sound

Megan and Barry on a day cruise on Milford Sound

(LetsGoWander.World) 2017 new zealand tour bike touring catlins cycling fiorland national park invercargill kaka point milford sound new zealand southern scenic route stewart island te anau ulva island https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2018/1/gems-of-southern-new-zealand Tue, 23 Jan 2018 17:53:36 GMT
New Zealand: (Still) Headed South https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2018/1/new-zealand-still-headed-south Scenic Lunch at Lake PukakiScenic Lunch at Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo are an amazing sky blue color due to rock flour from surrounding glaciers

It turns out that (almost) the entire population of New Zealand goes on vacation the two weeks after Christmas.  Suddenly we found ourselves struggling to find accommodation along our route.  While passing through Lake Tekapo, we got one of the last tent sites available at the holiday park which turned out to be the size of a postage stamp, but we were happy to have it.  There were several bike tourists staying at the campground including Scott who happened to be from Grandby, Colorado; a young couple from France who were pulling their 1 year old in a trailer; and a woman in her early twenties from Germany who was touring by herself.


A view of the Remarkables in the distanceA view of the Remarkables in the distance

A view of the Remarkables mountain range in the distance

Camping near us was a young Japanese couple that clearly had expected to find accommodations in town when they arrived but they ended up at the campground with their huge suitcases and no camping gear.  The town was over-run with people, all of the cafes had lines out the door, and at the end of the day all of the ready-to-eat food was gone from the shelves at the grocery store.


Unexpected River CrossingUnexpected River Crossing

An unexpected river crossing

I have found that the eastern side of the south island looks a lot like Colorado in many ways.  The area around Christchurch looks a lot like the dry rolling eastern plains, the stretch between Fairlie and Tekapo reminded me of the arid mountainous landscape of South Park, and parts of the Central Otago Rail Trail resemble the western slope with its rock outcroppings.  And of course the weather that changes every five minutes is somewhat familiar too.


The Canal Road Outside of Lake TekapoThe Canal Road Outside of Lake Tekapo

Riding along the delightfully deserted Canal Road out of Tekapo

While New Zealand does not have any defined routes around the islands for bike touring, there are a number of bike trails throughout the country which provide a nice opportunity to get off the roads and enjoy some different scenery.  


Stormy Skies on the Central Otago Rail TrailStormy Skies on the Central Otago Rail Trail

Ominous looking clouds along the Otago Central Rail Trail


Along the Otago Central Rail TrailAlong the Otago Central Rail Trail

The Otago Central Rail Trail goes through some very diverse terrain

Many of these trails are gravel and better suited to mountain bikes that aren't loaded down with gear, but some of them are still do-able with our bikes.  We rode part of the Alps to Ocean trail along Lake Pukaki and we also rode the entire length of Otago Central Rail Trail which is an old abandoned rail way which has been converted to a trail.  


Along the Otago Central Rail TrailAlong the Otago Central Rail Trail

Day 3 on the Otago Central Rail Trail


Along the Otago Central Rail Trail near HydeAlong the Otago Central Rail Trail near Hyde

A bridge near Hyde on the Otago Central Rail Trail

We did this trail over the course of three days and then took a train through the Taieri Gorge (along the part of the rail way that is still intact) into Dunedin.  The trail took us through some very remote and rural areas that were very scenic and enjoyable.  The second day on the trail turned out to be quite windy - for the second time on this trip I got blown off my bike by a strong cross-wind gust which only resulted in a little cussing and swearing on my part.


Train ride through the Tairei Gorge to DunedinTrain ride through the Tairei Gorge to Dunedin

The Taieri Gorge Railway

Once in Dunedin, we signed up for a wildlife tour of the Otago Peninsula.  While the peninsula is relatively close to Dunedin, much of it is quite remote and wild and there are some spectacular views of rolling hills, rocky coastlines and deserted beaches.  


Remote beach on the Otago PeninsulaRemote beach on the Otago Peninsula

A deserted beach on the Otago peninsula

One of the extraordinary things about New Zealand is that it is home to a large number of bird species and about 70% of them are endemic to the country.  New Zealand did not originally have any land dwelling mammals, so as predatory mammals were introduced to the country by humans, they have had a negative impact on many of the native bird species.  


Albatross on the Otago PeninsulaAlbatross on the Otago Peninsula

The wingspan of the Royal Albatross is about 10 feet

The Otago Peninsula is home to the only breeding colony for Royal Albatross on the mainland.  The nesting area is protected, but in the late afternoon you can watch the birds ride the wind up the cliffs from the ocean and circle around before landing.  After seeing the Albatross colony, we drove over to another part of the peninsula to see fur seals, sea lions and yellow eyed penguins.  


Yellow-Eyed Penguin on the Otago PeninsulaYellow-Eyed Penguin on the Otago Peninsula

It’s a long trek from the ocean each night for this little guy


Sand Covered Sea LionSand Covered Sea Lion

A juvenile sea lion covers himself with sand to dry off

The yellow eyed penguins are unique because they are forest-dwelling penguins so at the end of the day, they emerge from the ocean, waddle their way across the beach, and head up into the bush for the night.  About 20 years ago, there were about 9000 yellow-eyed penguins and now there are only about 2000.  Despite conservation efforts, the species is heading towards extinction due to predators and shrinking habitats.  


Fur seals with their pups on the Otago peninsulaFur seals with their pups on the Otago peninsula

A fur seal and some 2 month old pups

With revenues from their tours, the eco-tourism company that we went with lease coastal lands from local farmers to provide protected areas for the penguins which also provided a great opportunity for us to observe them.


Yellow-Eyed Penguin on the Otago PeninsulaYellow-Eyed Penguin on the Otago Peninsula

Another yellow eyed penguin

Tomorrow we are headed south again, headed towards Invercargill and the very south end of the island.  The areas coming up promise to be very picturesque so I am looking forward to it.



(LetsGoWander.World) 2017 new zealand tour bike touring cycling dunedin new zealand otago otago central rail trail https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2018/1/new-zealand-still-headed-south Wed, 10 Jan 2018 08:00:29 GMT
Christmas in Christchurch https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/12/christmas-in-christchurch Since arriving on the south island by ferry, we made our way down to Kaikoura by bus in order to avoid riding on State Highway 1 which is still under construction after being closed for over a year following an earthquake in November 2016.  From Kaikoura, we made our way down to Christchurch via the scenic Inland Road over the course of a few days.

Curious seal near KaikouraCurious seal near Kaikoura

One of the main attractions in Kaikoura is the seal colony

We rolled into Christchurch on Christmas eve just in time to get to the store to stock up on some food since most everything would be closed the next day.  Christmas day was sunny and hot, which for me felt distinctly NOT like Christmas but pleasant all the same.  

Hydrangeas at the Christchurch Botanic GardensHydrangeas at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens

Beautiful hydrangea gardens in Christchurch

We spent the morning walking around Hagley Park, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, and the city center.  The city was quiet with very little traffic and just a few tourists wandering around.  In other words, it was perfect (for me anyway).

Tree HuggerToo big to hug - one of the huge trees in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens

One of many enormous trees in the botanic gardens

Maybe you remember when a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck near Christchurch back in September 2010.  That quake caused some damage to the city, but there were no deaths.  Then on February 22, 2011 a 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch which was actually an aftershock of the September quake.  It is a day that has been seared into the memories of those living in Christchurch at the time.  Due to the closeness of the epicenter to the city and the relatively shallow depth of 5 km, it was a devastating quake for the city.  185 people died, mostly in two major building collapses, and there was extensive damage to buildings throughout the city, as well as the water, sewer and electrical utilities.

Ongoing construction in the city center

Ongoing construction in the city center

As the subject of Christchurch has come up with Kiwi's during our travels, we've heard people say things like, "it's just sad..." and "Christchurch has lost its soul."  I had never visited the city previously, so I didn't have any preconceived ideas about what the city should look like.  

A historic building in the midst of restoration

A historic building in the midst of restoration

Barry used to travel to Christchurch regularly for business, both before and after the quake.  However, in his visits after the quake, the center city where much of the most visible damage occurred had been fenced off and was inaccessible to the public.  On each subsequent visit, the fences were slowly moved inward as buildings were either repaired or demolished but he never got to see most of city center prior to our visit.

The damaged remains of the Christchurch Cathedral

The damaged remains of the Christchurch Cathedral

On this visit, it was difficult for him to orient himself to previous landmarks that he was familiar with because the city looks so different today.  The most visible symbol of the earthquake is the old cathedral which has stood in the center of Christchurch since the late 1800s.  It was heavily damaged in the 2011 earthquake and has been propped up since while the city and the Anglican church decided whether it should be demolished or restored.  Recently, it was finally decided that the church would be restored, but in the meantime the structure has been overtaken by grass, shrubs and pigeons. 

One of the trams that take passengers around the city center

One of the trams that take passengers around the city center

As we walked around the city, the most obvious thing was how visually open everything was.  There are huge expanses of empty land where buildings once stood.  Many buildings are obviously newly built, others are in progress, and still others are abandoned and waiting to be torn down.  I can certainly imagine that if you had a special connection to the city, it would be very difficult to visit it now.  

A memorial wall for the 2011 earthquake was just dedicated last February

A memorial wall for the 2011 earthquake was just dedicated last February

I can see that the difference between "before" and after" would be both stunning and devastating for people that lived here.  About 10,000 homes and buildings had to be demolished after the earthquake.  There are many neighborhoods around the city that had to be razed when soil became unstable following the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.  But, even though Christchurch will never be the same city that it once was, it is still a beautiful city with Hagley Park with its enormous trees as well as the green area along the river that snakes through the city.  It will be interesting to see how Christchurch reinvents itself over the next decade or so.  Things are certainly coming back to life in the city and no doubt this trend will continue for many years to come.

More construction…

More construction…

I found myself wondering what the city used to look like, so when we got back to our hotel I looked up Google street view images of the city taken prior to 2011 and comparing them to recent images.  Here are a few of those before and after images, just to give you an idea.

The view down Colombo Street with the cathedral visible in the distance (minus the tower)


Almost all of the old buildings on one side of Colombo Street had to be torn down


This doesn’t even look like the same street except for the old church on the right side which still stands in ruins today


Historical buildings were the hardest hit


This abandoned building is just waiting to be torn down


One of the many neighborhoods that were razed after the earthquake.


The green areas with the empty streets are neighborhoods that had to be razed due to unstable soils after the earthquakes.

(LetsGoWander.World) 2017 new zealand tour bike touring canterbury christchurch cycling earthquake kaikoura new zealand seals state highway 1 https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/12/christmas-in-christchurch Tue, 26 Dec 2017 07:16:43 GMT
Sun, Wind and Sheep... and the Nicest People Around https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/12/sun-wind-and-sheep-and-the-nicest-people-around

These are some of the realities of New Zealand, all of which are featured in our latest video:

- The sun here is strong!  We live at over 9000 feet back in Colorado where the sun is strong and the UV indexes are high.  But, New Zealand sets a new standard.  We brought our favorite 30 SPF sunscreen with us which is what we use in Colorado and we had to ditch it for 50+ SPF after a few days.  It was the strongest stuff that we could find and I'm still getting all kinds of weird tan lines.

- The wind (when it blows) can be vicious.  Strong, gusty winds certainly can add a new dimension to cycling in New Zealand.  Of course, the wind can be pretty wicked in Colorado too, but I generally don't ride on those days.  For the most part, we have been pretty lucky with the wind here.  We got a harsh introduction to it on our 2nd day of riding and another good dose of it in the last week.  The east side of the south island has a reputation for being quite windy, so we'll see how that goes.

- New Zealand has a reputation for having more sheep than humans, and that is still the case although the ratio has come down  quite a bit from what it once was.  The population of New Zealand is just over 4.5 million people and roughly 30 million sheep.  A few days ago, we were invited in for lunch by a couple that owned a sheep farm and learned all kinds of interesting things about raising sheep.  This leads me to my last point...

- Since the very first day when we stepped off the airplane in Auckland, I have been struck by the people of this place.  Kiwis are some of the most open, friendly and engaging people.  Yes, I'm stereotyping here, but it's not like we've just met a couple of nice people.  When we were standing outside of the airport, we had no fewer than 5-6 people stop and talk to us about where we were from and where we were headed to.  In most places, people just stare and wonder these things (I guess).  Since then, we have had so many people strike up conversations with us at grocery stores, at hotels, on the roadside, in the middle of town, at road construction stops... you name it.

Road block ahead!Road block ahead!

Road block ahead!

Since my last post, we have made our way south from Napier to Wellington and crossed over by ferry to the south island.  On our route from Napier, we did our best to stay off the main highway which made the route longer and a little bit hillier than it would have been.  But, the peace and quiet of the backroads made it all worthwhile.


Wellington Botanic GardensView from Wellington Botanic Gardens

View from Wellington Botanic Gardens

In one town, we met a cycle tourist named Wolfgang ("Volf-gahng" as he says it) from Germany.  You will have to imagine him with a strong German accent.  He's by far my favorite cycle tourist we have met so far.  He was traveling by himself and looked to be in his 60's I would guess.  He ended up staying at the same inn (really another pub accommodation) we stayed in and we invited him to have dinner with us.  He was a quiet, thoughtful man who used to be a teacher before retiring, but I found him charming and entertaining.  He said he had been lazy that day, "only" cycling from Upper Hutt which was 70 miles to the south.  He explained that he usually camped because he really preferred to be outside, but the threat of rain overnight compelled him to seek a room at the inn. 


Riding out of EketahunaRiding out of Eketahuna

Riding out of Eketahuna

"Plus, you two were here, so I thought I'd stay," he said.  I asked Wolfgang how he navigated around New Zealand - did he use paper maps?  Did he use a smart phone?  He pointed to his head and said, "it's all up here."  He pulled out an old flip phone and explained that his phone was not smart.  I could see there would be no swapping email addresses with Wolfgang or friending him on Facebook.  Of course, one of the things that cyclists always do is talk about gear.  After Barry told him about the super lightweight tent that we had bought for our trip, he went on to tell us about his tent, which he said was not so much a tent as a sheet...  a cotton sheet.  Of course it is.  Some people just leave an impression, and he was one of those people.


Ferry from Wellington to Picton

Ferry from Wellington to Picton

Now we are on the south island which everyone says is quite different from the north island.  I guess we shall see!

(LetsGoWander.World) 2017 new zealand tour bike touring cycling napier new zealand taupo https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/12/sun-wind-and-sheep-and-the-nicest-people-around Mon, 18 Dec 2017 08:38:31 GMT
New Zealand: Sleeping in a Pub is More Comfortable Than it Sounds https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/12/new-zealand-sleeping-in-a-pub-is-more-comfortable-than-it-sounds Megan riding the trail in Hawke's BayRiding the Trail in Hawke's Bay

Riding the Trail in Hawke's Bay

After leaving Rotorua, we decided to make a change to our planned course and head south instead of heading to the east cape.  I had been reluctant to go to Taupo because I thought it was a rather large city, but when I realized that it is actually a small city within an easy 2 day ride of Rotorua, we decided to make the trip.  Accommodations between Rotorua and Taupo are quite limited, so we ended up staying at a pub half way.  In New Zealand, many pubs (especially in small towns or rural areas) offer accommodation.  These are often simple and budget friendly options popular with backpackers.  This one was OK.  It was a tiny room, barely bigger than the bed itself and there was a common bathroom and common kitchen although we were the only ones staying there that night.  Probably the best things about it were that it had a built in place to eat (the pub) and it had a surprisingly comfortable bed.

On the trail from Rotorua to TaupoOn the trail from Rotorua to Taupo

On the Trail from Rotorua to Taupo

After arriving at the pub, we were sitting outside enjoying an ice cream when a couple of cycle tourists pulled up.  Although we had seen a couple sets of cycle tourists while in Rotorua, these were the first ones that we had a chance to talk to.  They had been in New Zealand for a couple of weeks, traveling the north island the opposite direction as us, and we were the first cycle tourists they had seen in NZ as well.  They were into their 9th month of cycle touring and had already visited South America, Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and now New Zealand (their blog is here in case you are interested).  They looked to be in their late 20's or early 30's and they both looked quite fresh even though by my calculations they had just ridden about 40 miles in very warm weather (I never look fresh after riding 40 miles in any weather).  They were a delight to talk to and gave us some good tips on road conditions and traffic to the south where they had come from.  They also showed us some maps that they had recently acquired which had a terrific level of detail that would be very helpful in our route planning.

On the trail from Rotorua to TaupoAlso on the trail from Rotorua to Taupo

Also on the Trail from Rotorua to Taupo

Every once in a while on these trips, we get really lucky with our accommodations.  Taupo was one of those places.  I found a last minute deal on an apartment hotel for a 1 bedroom apartment for NZ$125 per night (about US$86).  When we checked in, we were upgraded to a 2-bedroom unit which turned out to be a huge 2 level townhouse with a balcony and a view of the lake from the master bedroom.  Some things you just can't pass up, so we decided to stay 3 nights.  Ironically, the difference in cost between this place and the room in the pub was only about US$30 per night - worth every penny!  Taupo is located on the shores of an enormous lake with views of Mt. Ruapehu which is a snow-capped volcano where one can ski in the winter.  It is my favorite city so far in New Zealand.

Lake Taupo with Mt. Ruapehu in the BackgroundLake Taupo with Mt. Ruapehu in the Background

Lake Taupo with Mt. Ruapehu in the Background

We also decided to sign up for a hike that Barry had done 20 years ago and remembered to be very scenic.  After we were booked, Barry informed me that it was a 12 mile hike that we had just committed to for the following morning.  I gotta say, 12 miles was a bit longer than I was really up for, but what the heck... The Tongariro National Park is a World Heritage site and the hike - the Tongariro Crossing - turned out to be a great hike with epic views of the 3 surrounding volcanoes and the countryside.  There were considerably more hikers than 20 years ago of course.  If there is one thing that will guarantee crowds of people, it is the World Heritage designation.  But, the hikers spread out along the trail as we hiked along so it was not so crowded.  

Barry on the Tongariro CrossingBarry on the Tongariro Crossing

Barry on the Tongariro Crossing

After the 6 hour hike, my legs were jello-like and I was thankful that we still had another day in Taupo to relax a bit.  We also had a bit of a problem to figure out before we left Taupo.  In order to go south from Taupo, we had to choose from 2 very difficult and busy highways.  After talking to the two cycle tourists, I wasn't feeling great about either option, so the next day we had to figure out what to do next.  We headed out to the local tourist office to check out our options and to the local AA office (like AAA in the US) to see if we could get some of those detailed maps.

Route planning in TaupoRoute Planning in Taupo

Route Planning in our Spacious Apartment in Taupo

Ultimately, we ended up booking seats on a bus to Napier from Taupo.  The bikes can go on the bus if the driver says he has room, so there was no guarantee ahead of time that it would work out.  Luckily, everything worked as planned and we had a comfortable ride to Napier.  We saw a couple of cycle tourists braving the busy highway as we wooshed past them in the bus.  I really felt for them.  The road was narrow, winding, and quite steep in places with very little along the way in terms of stores, restaurants or accommodations.  I was quite happy with our decision to take the bus.

Now we are on our bikes again, heading south with the aim of reaching Christchurch on the south island for Christmas.

(LetsGoWander.World) 2017 new zealand tour bike touring cycling napier new zealand taupo https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/12/new-zealand-sleeping-in-a-pub-is-more-comfortable-than-it-sounds Sun, 10 Dec 2017 07:20:11 GMT
New Zealand: From the Coromandel Peninsula to Rotorua https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/12/coromandel-to-rotorua Check out our first video of our tour around the Coromandel Peninsula

Check out our first video of our tour around the Coromandel Peninsula

The other day, we were walking our fully-loaded bikes through the town of Tairua, passing time until check-in time for our accommodations.  A woman and her husband passed us walking in the other direction and I heard her mutter under her breath, "That's not my idea of how to spend my holiday."  I smiled to myself hearing her comment.  I would imagine a lot of people feel that way - even a lot of you reading this now.  I guess it's not really my idea of how to spend a vacation either... but I don't really look at these trips as vacations (or "holidays" in the Kiwi vernacular).  After all, they are a lot of work in terms of both logistics and physical activity.  But the pay-off is that we get to see areas of a country that we wouldn't normally see while zipping by in a camper van, we stay places that are definitively "off the beaten path" and we meet people that we wouldn't meet otherwise.  I would say that we get a much better sense of a place than the average tourist does.

Coromandel Peninsula

Waiau FallsWaiau Falls

We stopped at Waiau Falls on our way from Coromandel Town to Whitianga

We recently completed the first part of the trip riding around the Coromandel peninsula, which is located east of Auckland.  The peninsula is beautiful - with stunning beaches, lush forests, and lively beach towns.  On the road from Thames to Coromandel TownOn the road from Thames to Coromandel Town

On the road from Thames to Coromandel Town

The area is a popular weekend destination for Aucklanders, so the roads can be quite busy on Friday afternoons and Sunday afternoons.  Wherever possible, we stayed off the main roads and took quieter side roads instead.  

Hahei BeachHahei Beach

We took a side trip to Hahei Beach

One instance was a side trip we took to Hahei Beach which was well worth the extra distance.  We considered riding to Hot Water Beach as well, where you can dig a hole in the sand at low tide which will fill with warm water to sit in.  But on further consideration, we decided that maybe sitting in a sandy hole and then get back on our bikes to ride wasn't such a good idea.

Lunch with a view of the Pacific near Hot Water BeachLunch with a view of the Pacific near Hot Water Beach

Lunch with a view of the Pacific near Hot Water Beach

In the town of Whangamata, we stayed at a wonderful bed and breakfast run by Kevan and Yvonne who were great hosts - more like staying with family.  Each evening as we returned from dinner they offered a glass of wine with great conversation.  It was definitely a highlight for us.  

Barry with our hosts Yvonne and KevanBarry with our hosts Yvonne and Kevan

Barry with our hosts Yvonne and Kevan

They also turned us on to eating out at the local RSA (Returned and Services' Association) which is like the VFW in the US, but with a nicer atmosphere.  The RSA in Whagamata had a good menu, including European and Thai dishes, and also offered good local flavor which was a nice change from restaurants geared towards tourists.  We decided to make an effort to seek out RSA's in other towns during our trip.


Lake TikitapuOverlooking Lake Tikitapu

Overlooking Lake Tikitapu

Since leaving the Coromandel Peninsula, we skirted around the city of Tauranga and headed inland to Rotorua.  Rotorua is located right in the heart of the north island on the edge of a large lake and sits on a large caldera which generates lots of thermal activity in the area like hot springs, bubbling mud pools, and geysers.  

Hamurana ParkHamurana Park

Hamurana Park near Rotorua

The city is mostly known for its tourism and offers tons of activities in the area.  We decided to stay in Rotorua for 3 days in order to enjoy the area and rest up some.

Waikite Thermal SpringsWaikite Thermal Springs

Waikite Thermal Springs

On one of the days, we took a full day tour with a local guide which ended up being a private tour since it's still early in the season.  Our guide, Steve, offered us lots of information on the thermal activity in the area as well as the local flora and fauna. 

Mud pools at WaiotapuMud pools at Waiotapu

Mud pools at Waiotapu

We finished up the day with a visit to a natural stream and swimming hole heated by a thermal spring, and then a visit to a more traditional hot springs with the different pools of varying temperatures.

Megan at Kerosene Creek hot springsMegan at Kerosene Creek hot springs

Megan at Kerosene Creek hot springs

Hills, Hills and More Hills

Every day of riding here involves hills, some of them quite steep.  In comparison to riding in the mountains of Colorado, New Zealand's hills are generally shorter but quite a bit steeper.  On Colorado roads, you rarely see anything over an 8% grade whereas in New Zealand we have ridden on grades up to 16% so far which makes 8% seem almost easy.  

Riding on a quiet country road on the Coromandel PeninsulaRiding on a quiet country road on the Coromandel Peninsula

Riding on a quiet country road on the Coromandel Peninsula

We started out the trip being a bit ambitious with our daily mileage.  We should have known better than that.  Last year, we took the first two weeks riding shorter distances than our eventual average in order to "ease" into things.  So, we made some adjustments to our route to shorten up our rides and this has made things much better.  Of course, the hills get even bigger as we get further south (yay!).

We are working on our routes and accommodations for the upcoming days, but tomorrow we hit the road again.


(LetsGoWander.World) 2017 new zealand tour bike touring coromandel cycling new zealand rotorua whangamata whitianga https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/12/coromandel-to-rotorua Sat, 02 Dec 2017 07:34:05 GMT
New Zealand: The First Five Days https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/11/new-zealand-the-first-five-days Checking in at DIAChecking in at DIA

Checking in at Denver International – still lots of stuff but much less than last time.

We started out from the Auckland airport on Saturday morning after spending a day and a half in a hotel putting together the bikes, catching up on some sleep, and getting some supplies at the nearby grocery store.  The previous day had been sunny and warm, so we were looking forward to getting started, but the next morning we woke to gray skies and strong winds.  Oh well, that's the way it goes sometimes.

Riding from Auckland airport on a gray windy dayRiding from Auckland airport on a gray windy day

Riding from Auckland airport on a gray windy day

The Auckland airport is located in the southern suburbs of Auckland, and we were headed southwest of the city, so riding from the airport was not too difficult although we ran into some traffic here and there.  We managed to find some roads with bike lanes which made things a bit easier.

Meet our mascot for the trip - Pee Wee the Kiwi birdMeet our mascot for the trip - Pee Wee the Kiwi bird

Meet our mascot Pee Wee the Kiwi bird

As the day went on, the wind continued to pick up and we had some light rain showers as we approached the coast.  A relatively short (just over a mile) but very steep hill took us over to Orere Point where we planned to spend the first night.  Orere Point is a very small beach community with no accommodations other than a holiday park.  

A view of the Coromandel peninsulaA view of the Coromandel peninsula

View of the Coromandel peninsula after a steep climb

Like we found in Europe, New Zealand has lots of holiday parks which are part RV park, part mobile home park, and part campground.  These parks generally have some permanent or semi-permanent structures parked on spaces which people rent on an annual basis and use as weekend getaway homes, and also have spaces for RV and tent camping.  Many have a few bungalows that that can be rented by the night as well.  All of these parks have bathrooms and hot showers, and many have shared kitchen and laundry facilities.

Riding between Orere Point and Thames on a windy day.Riding between Orere Point and Thames on a windy day.

I didn’t take many pictures of the windy rainy days, so you’ll just have to trust me.  This is Barry riding along the coastline toward Thames.

Our plan had been to tent camp at Orere Point - that was until we saw that the weather was not going to cooperate.  But, when we asked about renting a bungalow, we were informed that participants of a local judo tournament had taken up all of bungalows.  So, instead we got the opportunity to try out our new tent.  We bought a smaller and much lighter tent for this trip as we recognized it as one of the areas that we could save some weight.  It's a Nemo Dagger tent, and it's super fast and easy to put up and has large vestibules where we can keep all of our gear dry.  So far, it's a big hit.

Newly shorn alpacas at The Little Farm in Coromandel where we stayed for 2 nightsNewly shorn alpacas at The Little Farm in Coromandel where we stayed for 2 nights

Newly shorn alpacas at “The Little Farm” in Coromandel where we stayed

As soon as we got the tent put up, it started to rain steadily and didn't stop until sometime around 2 am.  Then it started again a couple of hours later.  Of course, we know this because we were awake for much of the night.  When we got up the next day, it was the kind of day that I would have considered staying put if a) we hadn't been camping in a tent and b) we didn't have reservations for that evening 40 miles away.  As it was, we figured we might as well get going.  The rain was steady and the wind was gusting.  That day was a long day.  Although we didn't have too much climbing to do that day, the wind made those 40 miles seem endless.  Each mile was a struggle against 20-30 mph winds leaving us utterly exhausted.

Sea view from our bungalow in CoromandelSea view from our bungalow in Coromandel

Sea view from our bungalow in Coromandel

As we approached Thames, where we were staying for the night, the winds died down and the sun made an appearance.  We stayed at a cute little family run motel close into town which offered everything that we needed - mostly a nice hot shower and a big comfortable bed.  It's amazing the difference that those two things can make to one's outlook.

Riding along the Thames coast toward CoromandelRiding along the Thames coast toward Coromandel

Riding along the Thames coastline toward the Coromandel peninsula

The third day of our tour turned out to be quite different than the first two and raised our spirits considerably.  We had a tail wind as we road along the beautiful coastline toward the Coromandel peninsula.  The weather was warm and sunny, the riding was easy, and the traffic was fairly light.  It's funny, because in our planning, this third day looked like it would be the hardest by far of the first three days of our trip.  Granted, we did have to climb over two steep hills toward the end of the ride which were nothing to sneeze at (3.5 miles at 8-14% grades), but the difference that the weather made (and the wind in particular) was amazing.  We arrived in Coromandel Town in mid afternoon and found our accommodations easily.  We are staying for 2 nights in a bungalow with sea views on a small farm just outside of town.  It's pretty much perfect.

Cute goat at The Little Farm in Coromandel where we stayed for 2 nightsCute goat at The Little Farm in Coromandel where we stayed for 2 nights

Friendly goat at the farm looking for a snack from Barry

Today, we are enjoying a nice rest day in Coromandel which is a small seaside town with some cute shops and several cafes offering, among other things, fresh fish and chips and steamed mussels.  The weather is again beautiful, this time with almost no wind (which is good because we were wondering if that ever happened in New Zealand!).  

Laundry with a viewLaundry with a view

Laundry with a view

Just after we arrived yesterday, I managed to break my fancy-dancy titanium bike seat.  Unfortunately, there are no bike shops in Coromandel.  We were considering whether we could rig up the existing seat to last another day's ride into Whitianga or if we needed to take a bus to Whitianga today where there is a bike shop.  While doing laundry on the farm, I noticed an old bike seat in the garage, so I asked the owners if I could buy it off them and they happily just gave it to us.  That sure saves us a whole lot of trouble.

Spectacular sunset on the Coromandel peninsulaSpectacular sunset on the Coromandel peninsula

Sunset from Coromandel

Tomorrow we continue on our trip, crossing over to the other side of the Coromandel peninsula.  Wish us luck with the weather!

(LetsGoWander.World) 2017 new zealand tour bike touring camping coromandel cycling new zealand orere point pacific coast highway thames https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/11/new-zealand-the-first-five-days Tue, 21 Nov 2017 03:07:42 GMT
A Mini Tour of Colorado https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/10/a-mini-tour-of-colorado Our 5-day, 240 mile route

Our 5-day, 240-mile route

There is a 5-day, 240-mile route in the Colorado high country that we have had our eye on for a while now and when it came time to plan a test ride in preparation for our upcoming tour of New Zealand, we decided to try it out.  Test rides are handy for trying out new gear or a new riding configuration or just for making sure we are in good enough shape for the real thing. 

A little leftover snow and ice on the bike path from a recent storm.

A little leftover snow and ice on the bike path from a recent storm

We had planned to start out from our condo in Silverthorne on a Monday in early October, but an early winter storm delayed our departure by a couple of days.  When we started out on Wednesday, the air was brisk and there was still snow in some areas, but the forecast promised warmer temperatures and plenty of sun (and maybe some wind too).


Day 1 - Silverthorne to Leadville

Riding past Copper Mountain ski area.

Riding past Copper Mountain ski area

Our route took us on the familiar bike path around Lake Dillon and up past Copper Mountain ski area, where we had to walk a few stretches to get around ice and snow on the path.  Once on highway 91, the grade steadily increased as did the headwind.  Fremont Pass features several long, straight, steep stretches of highway and tops out at 11,318 feet.  

At the top of Fremont Pass

At the top of Fremont Pass

As we stood at the top of the pass taking pictures in the gusty wind, a car pulled over and a man approached us eyeing our bicycles and gear.  He introduced himself as "Al," explaining that he and his wife are also into long distance bike touring, and invited us to a get together at his house in Leadville later that evening.  How about that??  We hadn't even gotten to Leadville and we already had social plans!  But we had to get there first.

Long steep stretch of road on the way up Fremont Pass

Long steep stretch of road on the way up Fremont Pass

Even though the rest of route was mostly downhill, the strong headwind made the ride more challenging than it should have been and we pulled into Leadville around 4 pm.  If you've never been, Leadville is a funky, charming old mountain town with its origins in silver mining.  Situated at 10,152 feet, Leadville used to be the second most populous city in Colorado after Denver back in the 19th century.  Today, the population is around 2,700.  There is a huge variety of people that live up there, but they all must love the outdoors and also love the snow.  The friendly get together at Al and Wendy's house turned out to be lots of fun.  The wind calmed down and until the sun went behind the surrounding peaks, it was unseasonably warm for early October and so we all sat out on the patio sipping and eating.

Riding through downtown Leadville

Riding through historic downtown Leadville


Day 2 - Leadville to Aspen

The next morning, we waited until the temperature was in the 40's before departing.  This was to be our longest and hardest day, so we couldn't wait too long!  We planned to take a short cut along a dirt road that would take us off the highway some and our new Leadville friends had confirmed that this was a good plan.  Their nickname for this route - "Shore Is Pretty" - turned out to be quite accurate.

Shore is pretty indeed

Shore is pretty indeed

We stopped for lunch in the tiny town of Twin Lakes which has one of my favorite views in the entire state, especially in the fall when the surrounding Aspen trees are blazing gold.  During lunch, we psyched ourselves up for the ride over Independence Pass which starts right outside of town (the gas station in Twin Lakes is named "Pass Gas" - haha!). 

Scenic lunch spot in Twin Lakes

Scenic lunch spot in Twin Lakes

This one pass dictated the timing and direction that we decided to take on this mini-tour.  During the summer and early fall, Independence Pass attracts drivers looking for spectacular views of the Continental Divide and the fall colors are especially spectacular in this area.  For this reason, we wanted to avoid riding this pass on a weekend when there would be more traffic, and we waited until later in the season when tourist traffic would be less.  

A view of what's to come - the red arrows point to the road running up the side of the mountain. I always find this view particularly daunting.

A view of what's to come - the red arrows point to the road running up the side of the mountain.  I always find this view particularly daunting.

Also, since there are stretches of road with drop offs of several hundred feet (some without guard rails), we wanted to ride the pass from east to west so that we would be on the mountain-side of the road for most of the route.  If you're interested, the best time to ride Indy Pass is in mid to late May when the snow has been cleared from the road but the pass has not been opened to cars yet (which typically occurs right before Memorial Day weekend).  It really is a spectacular ride.

There were still some fall colors left on the east side of the pass

There were still some fall colors left on the east side of the pass

At the top of the pass, the temperature was in the mid 40's.  Considering that we thought it might be raining or even snowing, this wasn't so bad.  We bundled up for the 20 mile ride down into Aspen where the temperature was in the low 60's when we arrived.  

At the top of Independence Pass - finally!

At the top of Independence Pass - finally!

We were wiped out by the time we got there - I was even too pooped to get in the hot tub.  However, we spent an extra day in Aspen (because it's pretty much my favorite place in Colorado - not because of the glitzy shopping or the expensive restaurants, but because it's just a beautiful place) and we made good use of the hot tub then.

Stopping at a scenic overlook on the way down Independence Pass

Stopping at a scenic overlook on the way down Independence Pass


Day 4 (Day 3 of riding) - Aspen to Glenwood Springs

There is a bike path called the Rio Grande Trail from Aspen to Glenwood that was created as part of the "Rails to Trails" project, which converts old abandoned rail lines to bike paths.  The nice thing about Rails to Trails paths is that they generally have gentle grades and the Rio Grande Trail is no exception.  It was an easy, slightly downhill cruise from Aspen to Glenwood.  

On the Rio Grande Trail just outside of Aspen

On the Rio Grande Trail just outside of Aspen

The path follows the Roaring Fork river and cuts through residential, ranching and agricultural lands, staying away from the noisy highway for most of the route.  The path runs right by the cute little downtown area of Carbondale which was a great place to stop for lunch before continuing on our leisurely way to Glenwood Springs.  

Crossing the Roaring Fork river on the way to Glenwood Springs

Crossing the Roaring Fork river on the way to Glenwood Springs

Although we had ridden part of this path previously, this was the first time riding the whole distance and we both agree that it is one of the most scenic bike paths in Colorado.


Day 5 (Day 4 of riding) - Glenwood Springs to Avon (or let's make that Eagle)

Just outside of Glenwood Springs is Glenwood Canyon which is a spectacular canyon carved by the Colorado river.  I had been wanting to ride this trail for years, and we were treated to lots of warm sunshine for this special ride.  

A sunny morning in Glenwood Canyon

A sunny morning in Glenwood Canyon

Although I-70 also runs through the canyon, a series of tunnels and raised sections makes the highway relatively unobtrusive.  The bike path goes through the Hanging Lake rest area which is the jumping off point for one of the most popular hiking trails in Colorado.  There was a line of cars waiting for a parking space for a chance to hike to the popular lake, and new cars were being turned away.  It seems to me that if you want to hike to Hanging Lake, you might consider renting a bike in Glenwood Springs and riding there instead.  There is plenty of bicycle parking available.

Some parts of the canyon remain in the shade until late in the morning         

Some parts of the canyon remain in the shade until late in the morning

We had been keeping an eye on the forecast which was promising yet another winter storm, so at the last minute we changed our plans for the remaining tour.  Instead of riding to Avon, we changed our hotel reservations to stay in Eagle instead because there is a bus that stops in Eagle and gets us close to home.  We would have to forgo the last day of the tour which would have taken us from Avon over Vail Pass back to Silverthorne.

Taking a rest along the Colorado River

Taking a rest along the Colorado River

If you are interested in doing some cycling in the Colorado mountains but would like something a little less challenging, I would encourage you to consider a modified (and much easier) version of this tour.  Starting in Dillon, you can ride to Vail, Glenwood Springs, and Aspen while staying almost exclusively on bike paths the entire way.  This 140-mile, one-way route takes you over Vail Pass, but the east side of the pass is relatively short (4 miles) and less steep than the west side.  It really does make for a spectacular multi-day ride through some of the best that Colorado has to offer.


(LetsGoWander.World) aspen bike touring colorado colorado bike paths cycling glenwood canyon glenwood springs independence pass leadville rio grande trail https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/10/a-mini-tour-of-colorado Sun, 15 Oct 2017 12:04:39 GMT
Are You Ready For More? https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/9/are-you-ready-for-more It's been a while since I've posted anything here, and while I feel like maybe I should apologize for that, I'm guessing that you all have managed just fine without me.  Or maybe you didn't even notice that I'd been gone until just now.  I have started several posts which I didn't end up finishing, and since I started this blog for friends, family, and anyone else who might be interested, I figured I could take a break until I was feeling more inspired.  Which brings me to the real point of this particular post...

Our planned route in New Zealand

Barry and I are planning our next big bike tour!  In about 2 months, we will pack up our bikes and go to New Zealand where we will ride approximately 3100 miles over the course of 4 months.  I have never been to New Zealand although it's been on my "list" for some time.  Barry, on the other hand, has been to New Zealand many times both for work and pleasure.  He says, as do most people who have spent time there, that New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the world.  Sounds good to me!  

Random Eye Candy: Wildflowers at Shrine Pass, Eagle County, Colorado

While we were in Mexico over the winter, Barry started to lay out out a route for us to follow.  Starting on the North Island in Auckland, we will head south along the eastern coasts of both islands all the way to Invercargill, before heading back up the western coasts of both islands back to Hamilton where we will catch a train back to Auckland.  While he was doing this, he kept dropping hints that we would need to train quite a bit more for this tour.  Well, given that we really didn't train THAT much for the Europe tour, I thought that was kind of obvious.  But when I finally got a hold of this route he had planned, I felt a tinge of fear creep into my gut.  What caught my eye was the elevation gains on each and every day - 160,000 feet (about 30 miles) of total elevation gain over the entire tour.  My legs hurt just thinking about it.

Barry, Climber of Big Mountains

I'll let you in on a little secret...  I don't necessarily love to climb hills on my bike.  OK, I will admit that I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment after a good climb, but my, um, "physique" is more designed for flat or, better yet, downhill riding.  Barry, on the other hand, is built to climb - he's good at it and he enjoys it.  Hmmm...  I immediately started thinking of all the heavy stuff that I could put in Barry's panniers to slow him down.  The thing about hills is this... that's where the best views are.

I can haul my butt up some big hills, then I have to take a picture for evidence.

I made some, ahh, adjustments to Barry's route to make it a little tiny bit more palatable for me.  Can we just say that we won't plan to ride more than 4000 feet (vertically) in one day unless we absolutely have to?  That seems reasonable to me.

Balloon Rodeo at Steamboat Springs, Colorado

So, since my last blog post, we finished up our time in Mexico where we were overseeing a remodeling project on my parents' condo, drove back to Colorado stopping along the way for some sightseeing, went on a cruise to Alaska with my family for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary, and then started riding our bikes up here in the thin air of Summit county, Colorado (climbing lots of big hills).  I've also spent some time on my photography this summer (I've included a couple of my favorites pictures in this post).  We have a couple of trips planned before we take off for New Zealand as well as a mini bike tour in Colorado in early October assuming that we don't get snowed out like we did for our mini bike tour in Denver last year.  But before you know it we will be off on to New Zealand.  Everyone wants to know if we will be bringing Cisco to New Zealand, which sadly we won't be.  He will be staying at my parents, chasing bunnies every day which will make him very happy.  Although we will very much miss having him along with us, there are a bunch of factors that make this the best decision for him:  New Zealand has a quarantine for imported pets, the flight is quite long and involves a connection, and Cisco is just getting older.  Also, the difficult terrain also makes it a good decision for us as well.

View of the Ketchikan harbor

Stay tuned for more updates coming your way.  In the meantime, if you have any favorite places to see or things to do in New Zealand, please let me know!  I'd love to hear from you.


(LetsGoWander.World) 2017 2017 new zealand tour bike cycling new tour touring zealand https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/9/are-you-ready-for-more Mon, 11 Sep 2017 20:05:28 GMT
Saludos de Cabo https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/3/saludos-de-cabo It's been a little over 2 months since we arrived here in Cabo San Lucas.  In case you've never been, Los Cabos is the name of the municipality located on the tip of the Baja peninsula.  The two main cities within Los Cabos are Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo which are about 30 minutes apart by car.  The commercial airport is located in San Jose but most of the tourist "stuff" has traditionally been in Cabo San Lucas although that has started to change over the last several years, with lots of new hotels and resorts being built in San Jose.

The Arch and Lands' EndThe Arch and Lands' End

I first came down to Cabo about 12 years ago with my dad when my parents purchased a condo here.  As a foreigner, purchasing property in Mexico within 50 kilometers of the coast or 100 kilometers of a border is a little complicated because Mexican law prohibits foreigners from owning property in these "restricted areas".  So, foreigners must set up a real estate trust with themselves as the beneficiary which holds title to the property.  As I recall, my role was to help my dad with any language issues in the transaction, although I was quickly out of my league with all of the legal documents in Spanish.  I'm sure I provided excellent moral support though.  I have been here a few times over the years, but this is the first time I have spent more than a few days, and I have to say that I like it a lot.

View of the Arch from Medano BeachView of the Arch from Medano Beach

Cabo is an area of dry desert with stunning beaches interrupted only by rocky outcrops along the coast.  If I were to think back to what I would have envisioned Mexico to look like before I had ever been here or seen pictures, the natural environment of this area captures that mental image perfectly:  desert, sand, cacti, rocks and beaches.  It rarely rains here from November through May, but the area can get quite a lot of rain during the summer months.  In the winter, high temperatures are generally in the 70's and 80's with lows in the 60's.  Not much to complain about there.

Cabo sunrise on a stormy dayCabo sunrise on a (unusual) stormy day

In the last couple of months, we have had a few opportunities to explore the area a bit, although not as much as I would have liked due to some car problems that have grounded us a bit.  Here are some highlights from the area:

Fox Canyon (Canyon de la Zorra)

Fox Canyon is located near a small town called Santiago located on the Tropic of Cancer.  Santiago is a cute little town in and of itself, but the most interesting thing about it is the (mostly) underground aquifer that creates this oasis in the middle of the desert.  You would never even know it’s there until you get up above town and look down into the valley.

Santiago: Oasis in the DesertSantiago: Oasis in the Desert

Driving out of Santiago, the desert is beautiful with the Sierra Laguna mountains in the background.  The drive to Fox Canyon takes about 20 minutes on a well-maintained dirt road.

Road trip to Sierra Laguna National ParkRoad to Sierra Laguna National Park

Once you arrive at the park, it is a short but steep hike down into the canyon.  Here you see an emerald pool among huge granite boulders with a waterfall that runs all year-round.

Fox Canyon: An Unexpected Waterfall in the Middle of the DesertFox Canyon

The water is cool and refreshing on a hot desert day, and this is the kind of place you could hang out for the better part of a day sunning on the large boulders and then going for an occasional dip in the pool.  

Swimming at Fox CanyonA cool and refreshing dip in the emerald waters of Fox Canyon

There were a few people there when we visited, but someone camping in the area told us that it was a “busy” day and there had been virtually no one earlier in the week.

Dune Buggying on Playa Migriño

With some friends in town, we decided to try out dune buggying, which is one of those activities we probably wouldn’t have tried on our own but turned out to be great fun. 

Dune buggying on Migriño BeachDune buggying on Migriño Beach

There is a park with miles of roads through the desert as well as miles of beach frontage where you can bounce along, spraying sand as you go and watching whales jump out in the ocean while you’re at it.

Playa MigriñoPlaya Migriño

There aren’t too many places in the world where you can see a beach this beautiful with absolutely no one on it. 

Kayaking Around Land’s End

Land’s End is the name of the rocky formations that are famously visible from the beach in Cabo San Lucas.  While our friends were in town, we decided to rent kayaks and paddle out to Land’s End.  There is a colony of sea lions that hang out on the rocks out there.  Sometimes some of them will follow the fishing boats into the marina hoping to get some left over fish snacks.  We even saw one of them coaxed into jumping onto the rear platform of a boat while it was moving.

Sea lion colony near the archSea lion colony near the arch

Land’s End is also where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez.  When you stay on the Sea of Cortez side, the water is relatively calm but as you start to round the corner into the Pacific Ocean, the swells become quite impressive. 

Kayaking with Steve and JorgeKayaking with Steve and Jorge

I wanted to keep going further up the Pacific side, but luckily for us all, sound reasoning kept us safely upright in our kayaks on the side of the Sea of Cortez.

View from Lover's Beach

There are a few beaches that are only accessible by boat out at Land’s End.  Lover’s Beach is a beautiful little beach on the Sea of Cortez side.  Despite it’s relatively calm water, the dismount from the kayak is still a little tricky, but at least the audience was small in the morning when we were there.

Barry and I on Divorced Beach

From Lover’s Beach, you can walk over to the beach on the Pacific side called Divorced Beach.  I’m not sure why it’s called that, but perhaps it has something to do with the fates of couples that attempt to land their two-person kayaks there instead.

Cooking Class in San Jose

One of the first things I did here was to sign up for a cooking class which ended up being more of a cooking “event” and group lunch.  There were a bunch of Canadians, a few people from the US and even someone from Poland – some were in town for a short vacation while others lived in the area at least part of the year.

Cooking class in action

We made fish wrapped in parchment paper with fresh vegetables, 2 types of salsa, and strips of roasted poblano peppers in a cream sauce.

Mmmmmm... banana margaritas

It turned out to be a great opportunity to meet some people, learn how to make banana margaritas and then sip on them while eating delicious food.  I also got some useful tips on good restaurants, where to buy fresh fish, and where to find a good dentist – all of which have since come in handy.

Chef Megan

We plan to be here until sometime in May when we will make the drive back to Colorado.  In the meantime, we are actually doing something that could be loosely construed as work down here and I'll have an update on that as well 😊.

P.S.  Cisco turned 11 a few weeks ago.  Check out this video I made for him to relive his fantastic adventures over the last year.

(LetsGoWander.World) 2017 Baja Trip Cabo Cabo San Lucas Canyon de la zorra Cooking Class Divorced Beach Fox Canyon Lands End Lovers Beach San Jose del Cabo Santiago arch dune buggy el arco kayaking oasis https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/3/saludos-de-cabo Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:40:57 GMT
Driving the Baja https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/1/driving-the-baja Tip: In order to see captions for the photos, hover your mouse over the photo.

We set off from Colorado in the midst of a snow storm on a Monday morning, taking a route south along highway 285.  We got a few funny looks driving with our bikes on top of the car through the snow and the drive was a little dicey at first.  But once we hit Buena Vista, the roads cleared up and it was smooth sailing all the way to down through New Mexico.

All ready to go – cue the snowstorm.


Somewhere along the way… New Mexico maybe? The bikes stay upright despite the 60 MPH crosswinds.

We stayed overnight in Albuquerque and Tucson and crossed the border at Tecate. This was my first time driving across a US border and I was prepared for a long line and lots of bureaucracy, but instead we pulled up to a gate, a light turned green and the arm went up, and then we pulled through and were in Mexico.  As we started to pull away, Barry said, "Is that it?  What about our passports?  Don't we need some paperwork?"  We actually did need some paperwork.  So, we drove around the block a few times looking for a place to park so that we could walk back across the border and get it right this time.

We ate at this cute little outdoor venue in Ensenada with different stalls selling traditional Mexican dishes, different types of ceviche, and craft beer.


Tiny little puddle outside of Ensenada

Mexico has made it very easy for Americans to travel in the Baja peninsula and other parts of northern Mexico, so depending on where you are going you don't need a stamp in your passport, or an immigration form, or an import permit to bring your car in.  However, to go as far south as Cabo San Lucas, we did need the immigration form which we easily obtained and were on our way.  As we've experienced in the past, no one was interested in seeing Cisco's paperwork.

Unfortunately this was the only decent shot I got of Valle de Guadalupe in between downpours.

Highway 3 between Tecate and Ensenada passes through Valle de Guadelupe and is known as "La Ruta del Vino" or "The Wine Route."  I'd like to say that we purposely planned our trip to go through this beautiful region of northern Mexico, with its growing number of vineyards and wineries, but in truth it was just a happy accident.  I confess that I didn't really know that Mexico had much of a wine industry, but this area is becoming quite well-known for producing excellent wines and for its budding wine tourism.  I'd like to go back some day for a longer stay.  Click here for a write-up on visiting the area. 

Scenic rest stop


Barry stretching his legs (or maybe he’s dancing?)

We stayed overnight in Ensenada at a decent little bed and breakfast run by a Canadian couple who had escaped the cold weather.  They assured us that the weather in Ensenada was perfect - usually sunny and always ranging between 60 and 85 degrees Farenheit.  However, the temperature at the time was in the 50s and rainy.  In fact, judging from the enormous puddles around town, it was evident that it had been raining a lot.  It turns out that the northern half of the Baja peninsula has been getting the same treatment as California this winter with unusually copious amounts of rain.

The parking lot at the hotel in Guerrero Negro is filling up with water – time to go!


Ocean, cacti and mountains

In Ensenada, we joined up with highway 1 - "El Carretera Transpeninsular" which is the principal highway running the length of Baja.  This highway is in the midst of various construction projects along its entire length aimed at widening it and adding bridges over low spots called vados, but much of the highway is still a narrow two-lane road with no shoulders.

The beach at Loreto just before sunset


More spectacular scenery along the way

As a rule, we decided to fill up the gas tank every time we dipped below 3/4 of a tank just to be on the safe side.  It seemed like overkill at the time, but as it turned out it was a good move.  We filled up in a town called Rancho Los Pinos and passed by the next gas station in El Rosario since we had barely used an eighth of a tank by then.  Little did we know, that would be the last gas station that we would see for almost the entire day.  After about an hour, we saw some guy on the side of the road selling gasoline out of the back of his pick-up truck.  We laughed, and kept going.  We weren't that desperate... yet.  


Getting closer…

Several hours later, we started doing the math on whether we could make it to our destination for the night on our remaining gas.  Our best guess was "maybe."  When we passed another guy selling gasoline out of the back of his pick-up truck followed by a sign indicating the next station was another 90 kilometers ahead (we sure could have used a sign like that at the last gas station!), we made a U-turn and purchased 20 liters of gas for the bargain price of 380 pesos (just about 5.25 gallons for USD $18).  

Filling up at the pick-up truck

Driving down Baja is not the time and place to day dream as you leisurely drive down the highway.  Although there is not a lot of traffic on the road, it is full of blind hills followed by blind corners and, in some areas numerous potholes as well.  Add to this that many Mexicans drive like race-car-driver-wanna-be’s and you have a recipe for fun!  

Bay of Loreto National Marine Park

In many areas, the road is narrow enough that I found myself holding my breath when a truck passed us going the other direction.  On one side, you have a semi-truck barreling toward you and on the other side the road drops off several inches, so if you over-correct to either side you are headed for certain disaster.  Judging from the number of roadside memorials, wrecked guard rails, and skid marks leaving the road surface, I would say that the highway has seen its share of disasters. 

Another view of Loreto Bay National Marine Park


Lots of construction along the way

But, on the flip side, some of the scenery along the way is hard to beat.  From endless desert to rolling hills to high plateaus to craggy mountains, the Baja peninsula has something for everyone. I have also heard that there are numerous awesome beaches along the Baja peninsula, although many of them are tricky to get to.  There were a few accessible directly from the highway and used mostly by brave people who drive or tow their huge RVs down highway 1.

RVs at a one of the beaches along highway 1

The peninsula is home to some of the most remote and rugged terrain that I have seen.  At times, you feel like you are the only ones around for hundreds of miles (and you very well might be).  I was surprised by the number of bike tourists along the route - we saw 10 or so along the length of the peninsula.  If the highway is a little on the hairy side for drivers, you can only imagine how the cyclists feel with cars and trucks whizzing by them on the narrow roads.  It would be a long and desolate ride down the peninsula with prolonged stretches offering no food, water or accommodations along the way.  It’s a good thing cyclists don't require any gasoline…

At last we arrive in Cabo San Lucas and are treated to a spectacular sunset

(LetsGoWander.World) 2017 Baja Trip Baja Baja California Baja California Sur Cabo Driving Across Border Ensenada Loreto Bay Mexico Tecate https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/1/driving-the-baja Thu, 26 Jan 2017 13:18:46 GMT
Living on the Cheap? https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/1/living-on-the-cheap Tip: In order to see captions for the photos, hover your mouse over the photo.

We're headed here next. Aaaaaahhhhhhh...

Well, it's been quiet on the blogging front lately.  I hope you all are looking forward to 2017.  I know I am!  As I write this, I am watching it snow outside.  It's been doing that a lot up here in the mountains these last couple of months and we are ready for some warmer weather.  So, we are packing up to head out on our next adventure tomorrow - a road trip down to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico where we will be staying and playing for a while.  More to come on that later...


Recently I found myself chatting to a man in his mid-50's who was sitting next to me on a flight back to Denver.  Actually, he was doing most of the chatting and I was listening as he told me about his recent travels, upcoming holiday plans, and - inevitably - his job.  He was one of those gregarious people with a voice that carries above the din, so I can only assume that everyone around us heard at least his half of the conversation.  About 30 minutes prior to landing, he got around to asking me what I did for a living, which was actually the first time someone had directly asked me that question since I retired last May (unless you count the people we met along our Europe bike tour that asked us incredulously [and mostly rhetorically] what jobs we could possibly have that allowed us to spend the better part of 6 months on a bicycle).

November was pretty dry in Colorado, but then it started snowing... and snowing... and snowing...

I smiled and stalled a bit, and then I said, "Well, actually my husband and I retired about 7 months ago."  

"WHAT??  You can't be that old.  What are you, 45 tops?" he said to me.  

"Yes, I just recently turned 45...  And I'm retired.  How do you like me now??"  

Oh wait, I didn't say that last part.  What I did say, rather lamely, was something along the lines of "we manage to live cheaply," after which he quickly lost interest in favor of something extremely fascinating on his phone.

Reflecting back on that conversation, I couldn't help chastising myself for such a lame answer.  He was probably envisioning us living in a shack somewhere, darning our own socks and splitting 2-ply toilet paper to make it last longer.

The "what do you do for a living?" question is something I should have been more prepared for, and yet I'm still kind of at a loss about how to answer it in a way that conveys my enthusiasm for what we are doing and how we are doing it.


Supermoon rising over Breckenridge

In order to retire early, we knew that we were willing to give up some things, like having a gardener and a housekeeper.  We knew we would need to cut back the hours of the personal chef.  Just kidding, we didn't have any of those.  

But seriously, we knew there would some "sacrifices" to be made.  We were willing to forgo luxury cars, give up a hotel star or two when traveling, and cook more at home over eating out or ordering in.  But in reality, many of our spending patterns have evolved over the years to divert more of our income to savings.  We spend less on clothing, gadgets, subscriptions, services, and "stuff" in general than we used to.  

Summit county before the snow machine turned on.

We sold our primary house and use our second home (which is a small two bedroom condo) as our home base now.  It's smaller, cheaper and easier to maintain.  And, we don't have to worry about it when we're not there.

As a result of these changes, we currently live on about 25% of our pre-retirement income and yet we only had to cut back on our day-to-day spending by about 16%.  Having trouble with that math?  Well, here's how it breaks down.

Pre-retirement income This represents what we used to earn when we were working   100%
Savings (401k, IRA and other) No need to contribute to savings now that we are retired -25% 75%
Employment taxes (Social Security and Medicare) No employment, no employment taxes -7% 68%
Mortgage payment on primary home We sold the house -14% 54%
Tax savings Less income, less tax -13% 41%
Day-to-day spending This represents the spending that we nixed in order to retire early -16% 25%

Of that 25% that represents our current spending, some things we spend less on than we did previously (we now share one car and our utility bills are MUCH lower than they were when we had our house) and some things we spend more on than we did previously (like health insurance and traveling).  We also maintain plenty of flexibility in our budget by having as few fixed expenses as possible so that we can adapt when things don't go as planned.

Cute little fox near our condo

One way that we are able to save money when traveling is by using frequent flier miles to purchase our airline tickets.  We both did quite a bit of traveling during our careers, so we had somewhere just north of 2 million frequent flier miles when we retired.  We should be able to cover a lot of ground for that!

Also, for the first several years our tax savings will actually be even greater than what is represented here since we are living off of savings that we have already paid taxes on.  We won't dig into our 401(k)'s or IRA's at least until we turn 59½.

So, for us there were two factors that allowed us to retire early.  Cutting expenses and sticking to a budget is definitely an important one because we don't want to go running out of money after 10 years.  But another (related) factor is designing our lives around doing the things that we want to do and eliminating those things that aren't serving that purpose - like a big house with lots of upkeep for instance.  So far, it's all worth it.  Our time is our own and we look forward to filling it with more traveling, more cycling, and more adventure!


(LetsGoWander.World) Early retirement Retire early Retirement budget https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2017/1/living-on-the-cheap Tue, 10 Jan 2017 02:54:53 GMT
Trip Wrap Up: 2016 Europe Cycling Tour By The Numbers https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/11/trip-wrap-up-2016-europe-cycling-tour-by-the-numbers Well, we are now safely back from our Europe cycling tour.  The trip back was long but pretty uneventful.  We took a very long (12.5 hour) train ride from Zagreb, Croatia to Frankfurt, Germany.  We had booked the tickets a couple of months in advance because you had to reserve the spaces for the bikes and there were exactly 2 bike spaces on the train.  On the morning of departure, we left our Zagreb apartment while it was still dark since the train left just before 7 am.  As luck would have it, the car where the bikes would normally go had been substituted with another car without any bike spaces.  Oh well, we just stuck them on anyway and no one said anything about it. 

At the train station

We ended up sharing our compartment on the train with a family who was Serbian and Croatian but lived in Germany.  Luckily they loved Cisco and kept him (and us) well fed on the entire train ride.  They also shared some pictures of their trip to Croatia where they had attended the wedding of a relative.  Croatian weddings are 3 day spectacles filled with food, music and dancing.  They definitely helped the time pass more quickly on the train ride.

Getting ready to check-in at Frankfurt airport.

Once in Frankfurt, we transferred to a local train to the airport and checked into a hotel at the airport.  Before leaving, we obtained a kennel for Cisco to travel in, took him for a final walk, and then headed to the “bulky items” check in.  I noticed that I felt much more relaxed this time – both about putting Cisco on the plane and about checking our (unboxed) bicycles.  Everything showed up as planned in Denver and Cisco was thrilled to see grandma and grandpa at the airport.

I have always been somewhat of a data geek – tracking things in spreadsheets and this trip was no exception.  Below are some random facts, statistics and reflections from our trip that I compiled.  These are based on the bicycle-touring portion of our trip only.

Total Distance Ridden:  Approximately 2600 miles – roughly the same distance as the crow flies from San Francisco to New York City.

Total Countries Visited:  9 countries total (Belgium – 5 days, France – 39 days, Switzerland – 3 days, Germany – 19 days, Austria – 10 days, Slovakia – 1 day, Hungary – 12 days, Serbia – 15 days, Croatia – 30 days).

Flags of the United Nations

Favorite Country Visited:  Croatia was a beautiful country to visit with stunning coastlines and national parks, great seafood and good wine.  The Croatian (and Serbian) people were also very open, generous and kind.  Also, since English is widely spoken in Croatia, communication was less of a barrier than in some other countries.

Favorite Country for Cycling:  France has a great network of cycling routes including the Loire route which is about 800 kilometers long and mostly on bike path.  France also has many forests with gravel paths which make for great cycling as well.  Add in the great food, superb (and inexpensive) wine, and France makes a great country to explore by bicycle.

Croatia is certainly a beautiful country to visit!

Total Days Touring:  130 Days

Total Days Pedaling: 83 Days

Days NOT Pedaling:  47 Days (36%)

Average Distance Ridden Each Day:  31.3 miles

Longest Day:  61 miles from Ulm to Donauworth

Total Elevation Gain:  51,797 – Since much of our route took us along rivers and canals, most days were relatively flat.  Our top five days for elevation gain were all in Croatia.

Most Difficult Day:  Crossing from Rijeka, Croatia over a ridge to the Istria peninsula - 3612 vertical feet including a 10-mile continuous uphill stretch with many sections between 10% and 16% grades.

Total Nights Camping:  We spent 24 nights camping, either in our tent or in some kind of rented accommodation at a campground.  The remaining nights we stayed either in hotel rooms (71 nights) or private guesthouses or apartments (37 nights).

Enjoying a cold beer in the (diminishing) shade after a long ride.

Mobile home accommodations in a campground near Beaune, France.

Bungalow in a campground in Bourbon-Lancy, France.

Gross Vehicle Weight:  A whopping 325 pounds – Fully loaded with gear, my bicycle weighed in at a hefty 125 pounds.  Barry’s bicycle came in at about 100 pounds plus another 100 pounds worth of dog and trailer.  This was one of the most frequently asked questions we had on our tour – when asked how much do your bikes weigh, our typical answer was “too much!”

We often stopped at churches or cemeteries to rest because they are peaceful places and usually had somewhere to sit.

Number of Flat Tires:  We had a total of 4 flat tires during the trip.  Three of them occurred on the same wheel of Cisco’s chariot within the span of about 10 days.  Then, Barry had a flat on the second to last day of riding.  I didn’t have any flat tires during the tour.

Other Bicycle Maintenance Issues:  Barry changed the brake pads on our bicycles around half-way through the trip.  These disc brakes wear down very quickly when riding in rain or mud which we did a fair amount of during the first half of the trip.  By the end of the trip, Barry noticed some discoloration on his disc brake rotors indicating that they had overheated and would need to be replaced.  This was a result of towing the extra weight of the trailer and needing to brake continuously while descending steep grades.

Barry fixing a flat on the trailer

I have read that many other cycle tourists in Europe end up with broken spokes due to cobblestones or some other rough conditions.  Although we were prepared for this, we did not have any broken spokes or really any other mechanical issues with the bicycles.

Scoops of Gelato Consumed:  Hmmm, I don’t have the actual number here but I would guess that it’s in the vicinity of 120 scoops total.   Yum.  Good thing we were burning so many calories every day!

Number of Belly Rubs Received:  Barry – 0, Megan – 0, Cisco – 33 (give or take)

Belly rubs!!

More Belly Rubs!!!

An interesting statistic would be the number of Facebook pages (not including mine) that Cisco has been featured on.  So many people stopped to snap pictures of Cisco as he went by in his chariot, we referred to them as Cisco’s paparazzi.

Injuries Sustained:  Nothing major…  We were both using clipless pedals (which for you non-cyclists reading means that your feet are actually secured to the pedals with clips that you have to twist your feet to get out of).  We both had a couple of incidents of tipping over without successfully clipping out of the pedals first resulting in scraped elbows and knees.  Go ahead, laugh all you want…

At the beginning of the trip I had some difficulty getting used to maneuvering my bike with all of the gear and I kept running the pedals into the back of my legs to the point where my calves were covered in bruises.  It got so bad that Barry said that it looked like I had the plague, so I started to refer to them as my “plague legs.”  Luckily, by the time the sun started shining on a regular basis and I could wear shorts, the bruises had mostly faded away.

My "Plague Legs"

Some reflections about our trip

The best aspect of our trip for me was the cycling.  I have always loved cycling, but this trip reminded me just how enjoyable it can be.  It also reminded me how much more enjoyable cycling is when you are really in shape for it.  We went through some areas of Europe that we would never have visited otherwise and it was a great way to see lots of sights.  It’s very different than zooming by in a car or a train.

A day of cycling in Europe sure beats any at the office.

I also really enjoyed meeting and talking with people along the way – both locals and travelers from other countries.  This was the one aspect of the trip where language was most often a barrier since it’s hard to carry on much of a conversation without a common language, and sometimes this left us feeling somewhat isolated.  Obviously, it would be difficult to learn every language spoken in Europe, but I decided that I would like to spend some time learning German as this seems to be commonly spoken as a second language.

One of the biggest adjustments for me was making a spectacle of ourselves everywhere we went.  I have always loved people watching but I am certainly not used to being on the “watched” end of the activity. However, as you might imagine, everywhere we went people stared.  We would have gotten enough stares just with our loaded bicycles, but the addition of the dog in the trailer took it to a whole new level.  Pulling up to our hotel, people would watch with great curiosity as we went through the ritual of unloading the 8 panniers from our bike racks; packing up our 2 handle bar bags, 8 water bottles, bike pumps, and GPS computers into a bag; unloading Cisco and his bed from the trailer and folding it up into its own bag; and then carrying all of this stuff up to our room.  Every time we went through this, I was amazed at how we actually managed to get anywhere with all of this stuff!  I can only imagine what everyone else thought.  But, by the end of the trip I found that I was no longer fazed by this.  It was just all part of the routine.

Now that we are back home for a bit, we are formulating our plan for where to go next.  Stayed tuned for more adventures to come!


(LetsGoWander.World) 2016 Europe Cycling Tour Wrap-up traveling with a dog https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/11/trip-wrap-up-2016-europe-cycling-tour-by-the-numbers Mon, 14 Nov 2016 13:31:53 GMT
The Waterfalls of Croatia https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/10/the-waterfalls-of-croatia Croatia has two national parks that are known for their beautiful waterfalls – Krka National Park and Plitvice (pronounced PLEET-veet-seh) National Park.  The latter is the more well-known as it is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, but Krka is also quite beautiful and receives well over a million visitors annually.  We started our waterfall tour at Krka on a beautiful, sunny October day. 

The Krka river just downstream of the National Park

The air was warm with just a hint of the briskness of fall.  October can be hit or miss with the weather in Croatia, but it’s a great time to visit because most of the tourist amenities are still open but the crowds are significantly smaller than in peak season.  After October, parts of both parks close down until the spring.

Skradinski Buk Waterfalls at Krka National Park, CroatiaSkradinski Buk Waterfalls at Krka National Park, CroatiaSkradinski Buk Waterfalls at Krka National Park, Croatia

Krka National Park is named for the river of the same name which flows over a series of 7 waterfalls which make up the national park.  The most visited area of the park is called Skradinski Buk which is at the southern tip of the park and can be reached by boat or on foot – we elected to take the boat in and hike the 5 kilometers back out to the parking lot after our visit.

Smaller falls at Skradinski Buk

Aqua blue waters of the Krka River

At Skradinski Buk the main attraction is a set of falls which spill into a beautiful aqua blue pool which visitors are allowed to swim in.  We elected to skip the swimming since a) I threw my swimsuit away a few weeks ago when I noticed it was kind of falling apart and b) it’s October folks!  You can also take a hike up above the main falls where there are many smaller falls and pools which are maybe not as spectacular but equally as picturesque as those below.

Hike above Skradinski Buk

The following day, we drove to several other parts of Krka National Park.  Most of the park is accessible by boat – you hike up past falls to catch the next boat up the river – but in October the schedules are more limited so we elected to drive instead.   First, we visited Visovac island which is located in a wider part of the river and houses a 15th-century Franciscan Monastery.  A museum in the monastery has an impressive collection of relics such as historical church clothing, religious artifacts and rare books including a copy of Aesop’s Fables printed in 1487.  We arrived shortly after the park opened at 9 am and were lucky to be the only ones on the island at the time.

View of Visovac Island

Swans on the Krka River

Next, we drove farther north to the next set of waterfalls known as Roski Slap and then finished up our tour with a stop at an overlook that provided an excellent view of the third and tallest of the seven falls – Manojlovac Slap.  Ironically, the landscape surrounding Krka National Park is not the most appealing in terms of its natural beauty.  It is generally quite flat, scrubby and rocky.  But then this gorge opens up to reveal the most extraordinary splendor.

Roski Slap Waterfalls

Manojlovac Slap Waterfalls

Plitvice, on the other hand, is located in a beautiful mountainous area of the country near the border with Bosnia Herzegovina.  Our visit in mid-October yielded beautiful fall colors but less than beautiful weather.  We drove up to Plitvice the day before our visit in the pouring rain which didn’t quit all day.  We rented a tiny little cabin on a beautiful piece of property surrounded by rolling green hills and blazing autumn colors.  I would say that we arrived when the fall colors were just past peak, but still incredibly beautiful.  I tried to research ahead of time what the timing for peak fall color was but couldn’t find anything too helpful on Google – based on our visit I would say that the peak is right around the very middle of October.

Stunning Fall ColorsWaterfalls at Plitvice National Park, Croatia

There are two entrances to Plitvice NP with catchy names – Entrance 1 and Entrance 2.  Entrance 1 is the furthest to the north and offers a stunning introduction to the park with panoramic views of the tallest falls in the park.  When we arrived shortly after the park opened, we couldn’t actually see these views because everything was shrouded in fog, but I took this picture at the end of our visit when the fog had cleared.

Panoramic view at Entrance 1

The tallest falls at Plitvice NP shrouded in fog

The park features miles of trails and boardwalks which guide visitors up close to pools and waterfalls which would otherwise be inaccessible. 

Boardwalk path along a pool

Visitors walk along one of the boardwalks toward the falls

Also, visitors have the option to take electric boats across a couple of the lakes or to take a “train” (more like a cross between a train and a bus) from the top to the bottom of the park or vice versa.  The result is that a large portion of the park can be visited in just 2-3 hours if one is short on time, however I would recommend taking the better part of a day (at least) and hiking some or all of the trails.  We elected to hike from the bottom of the park to the very top and skip the boat rides.  This was about a 9-mile hike and then we took the train back down to where we started.

A hike in the forest

Colorful salamander hiding out near the base of a tree

Plitvice is one of those places where there is so much beauty that it overwhelms the senses.  Everywhere you turn is another spectacular scene.  It doesn’t take long to run out of superlatives to describe the place.




Um... yeah

These two parks made for a great finale to our trip and afterwards we made our way back to Zagreb and then caught a (very long) train back to Frankfurt.  Tomorrow we head back home to spend some time with friends and family for the holidays.

(LetsGoWander.World) 2016 Europe Cycling Tour Autumn Croatia Fall Color Krka Krka National Park Peak Fall Color Plitvitce Plitvitce National Park UNESCO Waterfalls https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/10/the-waterfalls-of-croatia Wed, 26 Oct 2016 09:31:01 GMT
Island Hopping in Croatia https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/10/island-hopping-in-croatia Once we arrived by bicycle to Split, we spent a few days finding somewhere to store the bicycles while we traveled by ferry to Dubrovnik and several islands (there are purportedly more than 1200 islands off the coast of Croatia). 

Full moon in old town Split

We are taking the high-speed catamaran ferries which don’t (officially) allow bicycles but do allow dogs.  The only caveat is that we have to forgo the comfy indoor seats and sit outside with Cisco.


We took a high speed catamaran ferry from Split to Dubrovnik where we stayed in a private apartment for 4 days.  Dubrovnik is an ancient town with a long and colorful history situated in a stunning location on the coast. 

The coastline around Dubrovnik is stunning.

The walled old town has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site and has been well preserved and restored.  Unfortunately, the UNESCO designation brings with it hoards of tourists – I can only imagine how busy it must be during the high season. 

So many tourists!

You can walk on top of the city walls all around the city which is a great way to see both the city and the views.  Some famous scenes from the Game of Thrones were filmed in Dubrovnik.  Click here to see a write up - it's pretty interesting to see.

View of old town Dubrovnik from atop the city walls.

We took a ferry to the island of Lokrum which is visible just off the coast of Dubrovnik.  This island is uninhabited but has hiking trails, an old monastery and a fortress located at the highest point. 

View of the Dubrovnik city walls from Lokrum.

We also took a day trip into Montenegro to see the town of Kotor which has also been designated a UNESCO site.  Kotor is located on a huge bay that was historically highly strategic because of the narrow opening that was easily guarded against enemy ships. 

Bay of Kotor

Montenegro is extremely mountainous, with the mountains coming right up to the ocean.  Kotor is located at the base of a mountain with the old town walls built up the mountain side.  The weather wasn’t great when we were there, but the location was still stunning.

Church of Our Lady of Remedy located above Kotor

Looking up towards the mountains from old town Kotor.


Our next stop was the island of Korcula where we stayed in the town of the same name.  Korcula (the town) is a ridiculously cute walled medieval town that has been well-preserved over the years.

Old Town KorculaOld Town Korcula

Cisco enjoying the views from our apartment on KorculaCisco enjoying the views from our apartment on Korcula

The town has a church and a small public square at its center with a series of small stone corridors leading outwards.  Everywhere you turn is a little restaurant or a café with tables placed along the stone corridors.

One of many narrow “streets” in old town Korcula

Part of the original wall that surrounded Korcula


The next stop on our island-hopping tour was the island of Hvar where we stayed in the town of Hvar, again in a private apartment.  Our host was kind enough to pick us up near the ferry port and let us pick up some groceries at the market before heading to the apartment as the rain picked up. 

Hvar Town SquareThe main square in Hvar town.

The weather forecast was a bit iffy for Hvar, but it ended up being very nice during our stay, with only occasional bouts of rain.  Hvar has long paths extending from the port along the coast which was a great place for a long walk with Cisco each day.  The port of Hvar is quite popular with the yachting set with lots of sailing and power yachts parked at the port or moored nearby.

Hvar portPort of Hvar

Dinner on Hvar islandDinner at an outdoor café in Hvar.

Hvar is also an old walled city built on a hillside with a fortress located at the top.  You can climb up the hill to see the views from the top and tour the old fortress which has an old underground cave-like prison and lookout towers with old canons dating from the late 1800s.

Old Town HvarOld walls of Hvar town with the fortress at the top


Our final island visit was to Vis which is a small island with a population of only 3000.  The island used to be largely off-limits to civilians during the post WWII era when the military built a network of tunnels to be used for combat purposes and for protection against nuclear attacks.  When Croatia gained independence from Serbia, the local inhabitants of Vis discovered these tunnels and today they offer jeep tours to these abandoned tunnels. 

Military combat tunnels on VisEscape hatch from the tunnels.

Submarine tunnelSubmarine tunnel built to conceal subs and ships.

11th century church on highest point on Vis11th century church on highest point on Vis

On our tour, we were joined by a couple from New York who were on a 7-month backpacking trip around the world and another couple from Melbourne on a 4-month backpacking trip to Europe and SE Asia.

Back to Split

After our visit to Vis, we made our way back to Split by ferry to arrange the remaining two weeks left in our trip.  After collecting our bikes from their storage location, we’re planning to rent a small van which will hold our bikes and luggage and head off to the Krka National Park and then to the Plitvice lake region (another UNESCO heritage site) which promises to be very beautiful.

(LetsGoWander.World) 2016 Europe Cycling Tour Croatia Dubrovnik Hvar Island Hopping Islands Korcula Lokrum Vis https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/10/island-hopping-in-croatia Sat, 15 Oct 2016 09:10:28 GMT
Riding Along the Coast in Croatia https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/10/riding-along-the-coast-in-croatia Well folks, we have now reached the end of the cycling portion of this trip, so before I get to the pictures here is the final video in the series covering Hungary (after Budapest), Serbia and Croatia.  Enjoy!

We arrived in Split yesterday after cycling through the Istrian peninsula, then continuing along the islands of Cres and Losinj, and finally taking a ferry to the mainland and cycling along the coast from Zadar to Split. 

A view of Cres as we cycled up and out of town in the morning

We have decided to head home at the end of October and spend the holidays with family and friends, so we still have about a month more to go.  From Split, we will continue by ferry to Dubrovnik and then make our way back to Split by ferry, staying on several islands along the way.  Since many of the ferries do not allow bicycles, we decided to leave the bikes in Split and take only what we need with us.  Plus, as you might imagine, we’re kind of ready to be done riding our bikes for now. 

Focus on the background here – not me choking down my lunch

Although we have seen several bicycle tourists in Croatia – certainly more than we saw in Serbia – in my opinion Croatia is a fantastic place to travel but not by bike.  The landscape is beautiful, the riding is challenging enough to keep things interesting, but the traffic is ever-present.  The main problem is that there are not many tertiary roads with light traffic to ride on in Croatia. 

Rest stop at a nice overlook

There are the expressways, which we obviously can’t and wouldn’t ride on.  Then, there are the secondary highways, which presumably used to be the main highways before the expressways were built.  These are generally two-lane roads with no shoulders, and they have a lot of local and tourist traffic.  Certainly the traffic is much lighter now than in July and August, but September still sees plenty of tourists in Croatia.  In those rare instances where there are tertiary routes to take, they can have ridiculously steep hills (10-20% gradients).

A view of the quaint harbor town of Mali Losinj

One of the things that I like about Croatia the most is that the tourist infrastructure is largely homegrown.  Outside of the capital city and the most touristy areas, you don’t see that many hotels and those that do exist are mostly small boutique hotels.  Most of the accommodations are provided by locals who rent out rooms or apartments in their homes.  In fact, we have only stayed in 2 hotels since arriving in Croatia a month ago.  Although you do see the occasional McDonalds in the larger cities, there are relatively few international chains with a presence in Croatia.  I think it’s pretty refreshing. 

Fresh fish market – they are pretty much sold out every day by mid-day

We have had the opportunity to meet many locals in Croatia – many have expressed a very keen interest in our cycling travels and sometimes they want to take a picture of us or with us.  In this small way, they become part of our story and we become part of theirs.  In a small coastal town called Pakostane, our host was just delighted when we pulled up on our bicycles with Cisco in tow.  He peppered us with questions while we unloaded our bicycles. 

Fun and unexpected boat ride

Then the next day we were sitting on the deck and he came by and asked if we wanted to go on a boat ride to a neighboring island.  He and his wife own a home on an island that they rent out and he needed to make a trip out there.  We had a great time.  As we were preparing to leave the next morning, he offered us a bottle of local wine as a gift. 

A quick picture with our host before departing

At our next stop in Brodarica, our host Vladimir also wanted to know all about our trip.  He was exceptionally well versed about the United States – he was familiar with our electoral system and wanted to know our thoughts on the current election cycle (oh so many thoughts...) and shared his opinion that "Donald Trump seems a little crazy, no?".  As we were about to load up the bikes on the morning of our departure, we discovered that Barry had a flat tire.  After helping us get the flat fixed, he invited us to have coffee before heading out.  Initially I demurred as I didn’t want to put them out any further, but it became clear to me that it would be rude to not accept his offer.  Coffee with Vladimir and Anna

Of course, in Croatia “having some coffee” is not just a matter of filling up a cup of coffee and drinking it.  He brought out a small table and chairs, covered it with a lace table cloth and his wife Anna brought out the tea cups and saucers, coffee, milk and sugar.  Then she brought out a plate of homemade cookies and biscuits.  We sat and chatted for a while and eventually discovered that Anna was from a town very near where my great grandparents were from prior to emigrating to the United States.

Another amazing thing about Croatia is the beautiful coastline.  The ocean water here is unbelievably clear – I’ve never seen anything like it.  Croatia boasts rocky coasts lined with fragrant pine trees that sway in the breeze and ocean waters varying from aqua to deep blue.  It’s quite beautiful.

Beautiful ocean waters

One of our favorite cities so far was Zadar.  We had zero expectations about it beforehand – the only reason we stayed near there was because it is a major ferry port.  When we took the ferry from Mali Losinj to Zadar, we arrived at about 10:45 pm. 

Barry and Cisco waiting for the ferry

We chose lodging close to the ferry port and I notified our hosts that we would be arriving quite late (which they were very gracious about).  This was the only time on our bike trip that we cycled in the dark and I was happy that it was only about a mile and a half on roads with very little traffic.  Our lighting systems on our bikes came in very handy on this occasion.

Sunset from Zadar

The next day, we walked into Zadar (there was a nice walking path along the coast all the way into town) and did a little exploring.  The city has a beautiful harbor, a few Roman ruins, and also a lovely old town.  Walking along the sea wall in town, we heard something that sounded like music emanating from the ocean and realized that this was the “sea organ” that we had read about.  It was designed by an architect to play music by way of sea waves and tubes that are located underneath a set of large marble steps.  Very cool.

Some big yachts at the Zadar harbor

The weather so far in Croatia has been beautiful.  The first part of September was still pretty hot, but then after a couple of rainy days the temperatures have moderated somewhat so that the days are in the mid-70s and the nights drop down into the 50s.  Once we are done with our little island tour, we will pack up our bikes and all of our gear into a little cargo van and visit a couple of the National Parks before heading back to Zagreb.  From Zagreb, we plan to take a train back to Frankfurt in order to fly home from there.

(LetsGoWander.World) 2016 Europe Cycling Tour Cres Croatia Losinj Split Traffic Zadar https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/10/riding-along-the-coast-in-croatia Sun, 02 Oct 2016 05:51:45 GMT
Croatia: Cycling around Istria https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/9/croatia-cycling-around-istria After deciding to go to Croatia next, we traveled from Belgrade, Serbia to Zagreb, Croatia via a combination of train rides and cycling and then stayed for a few days in Zagreb and then continued on to Rijeka which is on the coast. 

Bicycle compartment on the train to Zagreb.

Unfortunately, the Croatian trains are pretty difficult to take bicycles on.  In fact, most lines do not even allow bicycles, but there are a few that do although they sure don’t make it easy.  They are older style train cars with steep steps that are difficult just to climb up let alone lug a bike up.  So, in order to ride these trains we have to unload everything off of the bikes and load it all in separately.  Oh, and the trains only stop for a few minutes at each station so it’s a race to get it all on (or off) the train without it leaving half way through!

Riding the train from Belgrade.

Despite the difficulties, we managed OK.  We decided to go this way due to the general lack of accommodations across the route from Belgrade to Zagreb (regardless of the dog-friendly factor). 

Our general plan for Croatia is to ride around the Istrian peninsula which is at the far north-western part of the country – close to the Slovenian coast and Trieste, Italy – and then travel south through the Croatian islands via ferry and bicycle.  With its olive trees, vineyards, red tiled roofs and rocky coasts, Istria looks a lot like parts of Italy.  There are many cycling routes around Istria and we have seen a handful of cycle tourists along the way.  The riding is pretty challenging, and we have found that you must sometimes choose between backroads with very steep hills and main roads with more traffic.

A rest stop on our second day of riding in Istria.

The first day on the Istrian peninsula (where we had to ride over the ridge that separates mainland Croatia from the peninsula) was the most challenging day of the trip by far.  The 3600-foot elevation gain would have been challenging on a road bike with numerous inclines topping 10 percent, but it was quite a killer on our fully loaded bikes.  Plus, it was one of the hottest days of the summer.  At the top of the ridge, there was a festival going on with hundreds of people milling around.  We stopped to eat lunch at the top thinking that the rest of the route must be mostly downhill, but that turned out to not be quite true. 

Hill town of Motovun.

We still had a good ten miles of steep rolling hills ahead of us even though we were already feeling spent.  There were three women that we had seen at the festival that then passed us in their car as they were leaving.  They were so kind to stop and offer us a bottle of water that they had with them.  Then, about an hour later, the same three women pulled up this time with several bottles of ice cold water for us.  They had gone back to one of their homes, filled up the bottles and then driven around until they found us.  At this point, we were totally exhausted and almost out of water.  Their kindness was so overwhelming that I felt like crying.

Charming restaurant in an old stone building

We finally made it to our destination which was a guest house located in an old stone house out in the country.  The family also ran a restaurant onsite which was a good thing since there wasn’t anything else in the vicinity that didn’t involve riding up another (really steep) hill.  Once we had unloaded all of our stuff and put the bikes away, we sat down and shared a liter of water and a liter of coke.  I estimate that we probably drank 5-6 liters of fluids each that day.  We were just happy to have that ride behind us.

Barry and Cisco enjoying the sunset :)

After that first day, we made our way over to the coast of Istria where we camped for a couple of nights in the largest campground I have ever seen and then made our way down the coast to Rovinj for a few days and then Pula for a few more.  The campground at Karigador was located on the coast and had over 2000 campsites, 2 grocery stores, 2 enormous pools, bakeries, restaurants, bars… you name it.  It also had a dog beach (which Cisco enjoyed) and doggie showers (which he didn’t).

The marina at Rovinj.

Riding from Karigador to Rovinj, we had to ride through the Lim Fjord which was another challenging climb, although nowhere near as difficult as the first day on the peninsula.  Rovinj is a fabulous little city on the coast that reminds me a bit of Portofino, Italy.  The pedestrian-only city center is located down near the marina and offers lots of opportunities to eat while enjoying a lovely view of the sea.  There is plenty of great seafood in this region and lots of Italian food in addition to the traditional Croatian fare (lots of pork and potatoes).  We stayed in a cute little apartment just outside the city center.

A beautiful day for a walk along the harbor.

After Rovinj, our next stop was Pula which is located near the tip of the peninsula.  Pula is mostly known for its Roman ruins scattered throughout the city center.  The city also has a huge port and lots of nearby beaches.  The coliseum in Pula is one of the six largest remaining Roman coliseums left in the world and is quite well preserved.  It was built between 27 BC and 68 AD. 

The Roman coliseum in Pula.

Now that we are no longer under a visa time constraint, we are taking our time as we go and staying for 2 or 3 days to get to know each place a little more.  Tomorrow we head back north to catch a ferry to the nearby island of Cris.

Fishing boats in the Pula harbor.

(LetsGoWander.World) 2016 Europe Cycling Tour Croatia Istria camping coast taking bicycles on trains https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/9/croatia-cycling-around-istria Tue, 13 Sep 2016 08:29:04 GMT
Serbia: Time for a change of pace and a change of plans https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/8/serbia-change-of-pace-and-plans We crossed the border from Hungary to Serbia without much trouble to speak of.  The border guard took [all three] passports, opened Cisco’s that we had went through so much trouble to get while in Hungary, looked at Cisco and said “dog” and handed the passport back to us.  The money exchange office at the border would not change our Hungarian Forints to Serbian Dinars which I thought was odd seeing as how we were crossing from Hungary into Serbia, so we had to look for an ATM soon.

Barry and Cisco right before crossing over the border to Serbia

The first day in Serbia took us through some rural areas and small towns and finally into the city of Sombor where we planned to stay for two nights.  We had booked a private apartment which was owned and managed by a very nice local couple who used it as an investment property (which turns out to be pretty common in Serbia).  It took a little effort to get a hold of the owner and get into the apartment, but it turned out to be very nice place to stay for a rest day.  Sombor – like pretty much all other Serbian towns of any size – has a pedestrian area filled with outdoor cafes as well as some nice parks and green spaces.  Serbians seem to love sitting at cafes, drinking coffee and eating ice cream.  Who can argue with any of that?  We arrived in Serbia on a Sunday and we were extremely happy to find out that Serbia does not have the “everything is closed on Sunday” rule and so we were able to get what we needed at the grocery store with no problems and Sombor turned out to be a nice relaxing place to chill out for a couple of days.

Evening sun on the cathedral in Sombor near the main square

The next place we stayed in Serbia was a little different experience.  It was a guest house listed on booking.com and it was the only option in a 100 mile stretch so we didn’t really have any other choice but to stay there.  Reading the booking.com listing you might think it’s a great place with lots of amenities, but I decided that they probably just checked every box on the listing application so their property indicates that they have a pool, a private beach, dry cleaning services, a night club, a pool table, a gift shop and numerous other amenities that it clearly didn’t have. What it did have was numerous fish, cats, dogs, goats, hens, turtles, ducks and roosters.  The guest house was attached but separate from the main house, but those rooms were all occupied (despite our reservation) so we were offered a room in the main house.  We had to wait while she made the bed for us and I guess she didn’t have time to run a vacuum or wipe away the cobwebs or clean the bathroom.  At some point I got a glimpse of the kitchen which looked like cleaning or washing dishes was not a common practice in the household, so when she asked me if we wanted breakfast the next morning I said “No!”  After a less-than-restful night with all of the animal noises going on outside, we left early and stopped at the grocery store on the way out of town for a little breakfast.  Luckily, this experience was not at all representative of Serbia as a whole which we have found to be quite enjoyable with very comfortable accommodations.

Market in Novi Sad

Before arriving, I was a little worried about communicating in Serbia.  The language is intimidating to the uninitiated.  Both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabet are used for the written language just to add an extra bit of complexity, so Хвала вам is the same as Hvala vam – they both mean “Thank you.”  Both alphabets are used regularly, so sometimes signs are written in one or the other and sometimes even both.  Barry recently pointed out that I only know three words in Serbian - croissant, wine, and thank you.  I guess that's kind of pathetic, but then again what else do you need?  As it turns out, many Serbians speak at least some English so communicating really hasn’t been too much of an issue at all.

Our favorite restaurant in Belgrade - located around the corner from our apartment


We stopped in several other towns and cities in Serbia on our way to Belgrade.  Novi Sad was one of the largest cities we stayed in and we were close to the charming historical center with – you guessed it – lots of outdoor cafes filled with people drinking coffee and eating ice cream.  Leaving Novi Sad the next day, we elected to take an alternate route through a national park rather than following the steep busy road out of town.  Initially, this seemed like a good idea as the road was pleasant and well maintained.  But eventually the well maintained road turned into a muddy swampy mosquito breeding ground with some hills that were so steep, so muddy and so rocky that we could barely push our bikes up them.  This was well past the point where it made any sense to turn around, so we pushed on and eventually emerged several hours later begging to ride on the busy road with no shoulders.  We would eventually come across a car wash on our way into Belgrade where we stopped and unloaded everything from the bikes in order to give them a good bath.

Panoramic view from the fortress in Belgrade overlooking the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers.

In Belgrade, we had planned to rent an apartment for an extended 9-day rest in order to give ourselves some time to recover a bit and plan out the rest of our trip.  We were lucky to find a great 1-bedroom apartment near the city center with a huge balcony and a great city view.  Also, the apartment had laundry facilities so we did laundry almost every day of our stay there.

Cisco enjoying the view from our apartment.

We also took some time to do some sightseeing as well, taking a tour which focused on the Communist past of Yugoslavia and the changes that have occurred since that country was split into the current countries of Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia.  

​Army headquarters building in Belgrade that was bombed by NATO in 1999 – now it’s become somewhat of a tourist attraction.

We took another private driving tour with two locals guides from Belgrade to the Djerdap National Park which is in an area also known as the “Iron Gates.”  On this tour, we visited an archeological dig site where they discovered a village from 8000 years ago complete with over 100 intact skeletons and numerous carvings and artifacts.  We also visited a property located in the National Park with a fantastic view high above the Danube where you can take a seat on one of any number of picnic tables or benches around the property and have lunch or just have a glass of their locally made wine or juice made from Elderberry flowers.  The property has a small organic farm and also hosts artists from time to time.  It was a beautiful and relaxing place to enjoy.

Enjoying a glass of local wine in the shade with one of our guides.

Once we had settled in a bit, we began the route planning process for the remaining 650 miles to the Black Sea.  We have always known that this next section would be the most challenging in many ways because there would be far less tourist infrastructure.  For us, this means more riding on busy and/or deteriorating roads and fewer places to stay overnight.  As we laid out the route ahead of us, there were two gaps where there were no dog-friendly options to stay within a 90-100 mile stretch and there was definitely quite a bit of riding on high traffic roads with no shoulders.

One of the 21 unlit tunnels with no shoulders located along the cycle route. We weren’t really looking forward to these.

We thought about this for a couple of days and did some furious research on the computer to see what our options might be.  Originally, we had planned to head south to Turkey for the winter but given recent and current events there, we decided not to go.  So getting to the Black Sea is not necessarily critical to our plans.  We finally decided to change things up and head for the Adriatic Sea instead.  From Belgrade we will make our way to the Croatian coast to do some cycling and island hopping there.  I have to admit, I’m a little sad to miss Romania and the Black Sea, but I’m pretty excited about Croatia.  We’ll have missed the big tourist season there, so things should be quieter but the weather should still be good. 

(LetsGoWander.World) 2016 Europe Cycling Tour Belgrade Croatia Danube Djerdap Eurovelo 6 Iron Gate Novi Sad Serbia Sombor https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/8/serbia-change-of-pace-and-plans Mon, 29 Aug 2016 15:00:00 GMT
Hungary: Budapest and Beyond https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/8/hungary-budapest-and-beyond Budapest was the city that I was most looking forward to visiting on this trip since I had never been there before and Barry had good things to say about it based on the handful of times he had visited for work.  I’m happy to report that I was definitely not disappointed.  Budapest was originally two cities – Buda and Pest – separated by the Danube river.  We stayed on the Pest side of the city, in a nice neighborhood not too far from the city center.  I made a short video of our ride from Bavaria to Budapest – check it out here.

The city is very bike friendly with bike lanes along many streets in the city as well as a bike path running along much of the river front on both sides of the river, so navigating our way into the city wasn’t much of a problem.  On Sunday, we opted to do a walking tour.  There is a group that runs several walking tours of the city – most of which are offered for free.  The tours are guided by locals and the arrangement is that you tip the guides based on what you think is appropriate. 

The Parliament House on the Danube lit up at night.

They have a general half day tour which offers a little history, a little architecture, and some sightseeing from the perspective of a local.  They also have more specialized tours – such as the Communism tour and the Jewish District tour.  It was a great way to learn a bit about the city and if we’d had more time I definitely would have opted to try out some of the other tours as well.  While in Budapest, we met up with two of Barry’s former coworkers – Peter and Kris.  They took us to a great restaurant overlooking the Danube for an enjoyable evening.  They also offered up their assistance if we needed it during the rest of our trip. Mattia's Church in Buda's Castle District.

Little did we know that we would take them up on that offer just a couple of days later.  We were pedaling along a grassy path near the Danube when we came along an elderly man sitting next to the path.  He was unable to get up on his own and seemed a bit disoriented.  After talking to him for a few minutes, it was clear that he had dementia of some kind and was not sure where he came from, where he was going or quite how he got there.  Peer contacted emergency services for us to get assistance for him and we waited until they picked him up.  I hope they figured out where he belonged and that he got home safe.

One night in Hungary, we stayed in an old manor house that had been built as a royal hunting lodge in the 1700's and has been converted into a hotel.  There we met another bicycle tourist who had been on a round-the-world tour for a year, and was within a few weeks of his home in Austria.  He had ridden across the United States and across Australia, crossing both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans as a passenger on container ships.  Then, his route took him from Singapore north through Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India and Nepal and then across the middle east to the Black Sea.  When we asked him how it was to travel through Myanmar, he said that getting a permit to travel there was tricky and finding accommodation was a challenge – he said he frequently stayed at monasteries or just camped.  He was pretty excited about getting back home soon.  This Royal Hunting Lodge was converted to a hotel.

On another night, we stayed in a guest house on a ranch with goats, sheep, cows, bulls, mules, and horses.  It was a nice change of pace to be out of town and our host even helped us order pizza for delivery!  It was also here that we met up with a group of five Austrian friend bike touring through Hungary and Croatia.  They really got a kick out of Cisco.  We would see them a few times over the next couple of days before they headed off to Croatia and we went on towards Serbia.

In all, we stayed in Hungary for 11 days and enjoyed every minute.  We found the Hungarians to be very open and friendly people.  We especially enjoyed some of the Hungarian foods such as Catfish Stew (something I probably would never order if someone hadn’t recommended it) and Lecsó which is like a Hungarian version of Ratatouille.  Taking a break on a rural path in Hungary.

The route through Hungary was mixed – at times we were riding on great bike paths, at other times on roads that ranged from busy to deserted and newly paved to not paved at all.  There were a couple of really bad stretches – one was more of a swamp than a road and another had more potholes than flat surfaces.  Our route also took us across the Danube in several places that required us to take a ferry at a cost of about $4 for us and the bikes.  But all in all, not too bad.

Next we are headed into Serbia which is a country that neither of us has been to before – we’re looking forward to it!

(LetsGoWander.World) 2016 Europe Cycling Tour Budapest Danube Hungary cycling video https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/8/hungary-budapest-and-beyond Wed, 17 Aug 2016 15:54:41 GMT
Cisco: World Traveler https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/8/cisco-world-traveler A lot of people have asked about Cisco – “How’s he doing?”  “Is he enjoying himself?”  So, I thought I would write a short post about Cisco’s experience so far (from my perspective anyway). Cisco and I on a rest break.

I’m pretty sure that at about a week into our trip, Cisco thought we were crazy.  We had left behind the good life to do this?  Every day was a different hotel, with his bed and food in a different place.  For a dog used to his routines, it was a big change.  And, riding in his chariot every day was a big change as well.  Although we had taken him on several training rides and a bike-camping trip prior to our departure, it’s a different thing to do every day (for Cisco and for us as well!).  At first, he was often quite tired out by the time we arrived at our destination.  We have lots of pictures like this one. 

Sleepy dog...

When he rides in the chariot, Cisco spends most of his time looking around – either sitting or standing with his head out to enjoy the view.  Sometimes he lays down for short periods of time to rest.  He’s always on the lookout for other dogs, kitty cats, bunnies or deer.  He genuinely seems to enjoy riding in the chariot and I know that he likes that he gets to GO every day. 

Riding through the vineyards in Austria.


At this point in the trip, Cisco has thoroughly adjusted to the new routine.  He makes sure that we get up at 6 am to take him for a walk.  Then, after his breakfast, he takes a snooze while we eat breakfast and then pack everything up to go.  He waits patiently in the hotel room until everything else is carried down to the bikes and then he knows it’s his turn to go.  Cisco’s favorite times of day are snack time and lunch time.  As soon as we stop and he gets out of the chariot, he makes a bee-line over to me to see what I will pull out of the food bag.  Of course, Cisco gets to partake in whatever we are having.  It’s one of the perks of being Cisco. 

One of Cisco's biggest fans in Hungary.

Another perk of being Cisco is that Europe is filled with people to hit up for a belly rub.  When someone shows any kind of interest in him, he lets them pet his head for a minute and then flops over to the belly rub position.  He actually gets quite a few takers – especially here in Hungary. 

Fellow camper obliges Cisco with a belly rub.

Having Cisco along on the trip has been fun.  He provides some comic relief from time to time.  Of course there was the infamous “shower scene” early on.  Then there was the 4-star hotel we stayed at for one night that had these sparkling clear glass doors.  Every time we took him outside, he kept running straight into these doors leaving a big wet doggy nose streak.  Sometimes he’s not the fastest learner.  Then, just a few nights ago we were walking him along the banks of the Danube.  He was sniffing around this clump of grass when suddenly he yelped as loud as I have ever heard him yelp and jumped about 3 feet in the air.  I thought maybe he had been bitten or stung by something except that he didn’t appear to be hurt at all.  Then this tiny frog hopped away from the clump of grass.  Needless to say, that was Cisco’s first experience with the amphibian species. 

Rest break on a rainy day.

In general, Europe is a very dog-friendly place.  Dogs are allowed at most outdoor cafes and even allowed inside many restaurants.  Many trains, trams, ferries and buses allow dogs.  Finding accommodations which allow dogs has not been a problem, although sometimes we have to pay a nominal fee for him.

  Hanging out in the chariot.

Now that we are getting ready to leave the EU, we made a trip to a veterinarian while we were in Budapest.  Barry’s former co-workers in Budapest helped us find an English speaking vet that we could go to which was a huge help to us.  It was quite exciting for him as he got to take a ride on the metro and on a bus to get there.  Doggies in Europe must have a dog passport showing their vaccination history.  Although these are not required for dogs that came in from the US (there is another set of paperwork that we had to bring to get Cisco into Germany), we figured it couldn’t hurt to have a doggie passport for Cisco.  Hopefully it will make the border crossings easier.  Cisco also had a blood test that will help us get him back into the EU when/if we need to do so. 


When people see Cisco in the trailer when they are expecting a kid or maybe some gear, the reactions range from surprise to laughter to amusement.  Many people snap pictures of him and some comment that he is a “lucky dog.”  I think Cisco would agree.

(LetsGoWander.World) 2016 Europe Cycling Tour Cisco cycling with a dog traveling with a dog https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/8/cisco-world-traveler Sun, 14 Aug 2016 15:13:57 GMT
The Dog Days of Summer https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/8/the-dog-days-of-summer Since the last post, we have made our way through Austria, spent one evening in Slovakia before crossing into Hungary.  During this time, we had a nice peaceful ride along the Danube for several days, staying in a couple of small boutique hotels along the way and then camping one night.  During this stretch, we rode for several miles through the Wachau wine region in Austria which is a very beautiful area. Wachau wine region

Arriving in Vienna, we stayed 3 nights in the relative luxury of a Marriott where we were able to redeem some free nights that we had saved up, and enjoyed exploring that historic city.  We rode into Vienna along an island that runs along the middle of the Danube river.  The island is about 12 miles long and has recreation paths throughout as well as parks and open space which makes it a nice place to ride a bike or go for a run. 

Visiting a monastery in the hills outside of Vienna.

On one of our free days in Vienna we went on a tour that took us up into the surrounding hills to visit two monasteries and an underground lake.  We also spent a bunch of time walking around the historical pedestrian area, located between the famous Opera House and St. Stephan’s cathedral.  On the next day, we went to the Schönbrunn Palace and walked around the extensive gardens which I found to be more impressive than Versailles in many ways. 

The gardens around Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna.


Vienna is a relatively easy city to navigate by bicycle, especially with the island along the Danube, many dedicated bicycle lanes, and Prater park which is an enormous park which stretches through a large section of the city and provides a nice car-free cycling experience.

Leaving Vienna, we also soon left the banks of the Danube river and rode our way into our 6th country on this trip – Slovakia.  The Eurovelo 6 route makes a quick loop through the capital city of Bratislava before heading into Hungary.  Besides the remnants of the old border crossing from Austria into Slovakia, the abrupt change in language and the increase in old Soviet-style buildings marked our arrival into Slovakia.

Historical city center of Bratislava, Slovakia.

I didn’t really have any expectations for Bratislava, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.  There is a nice pedestrian area in the historical city center with lots of shops and restaurants, lots of narrow winding cobblestone streets to explore, and a castle on the top of a hill offering a great view of the city, the river and the iconic “UFO Bridge” that crosses the Danube into the city.  Bratislava is one of the stops for the passenger ships that cruise up and down the Danube, so the city sees a good number of tourists.

Iconic UFO bridge coming into Bratislava.

After our one night in Slovakia, we were on our way again, crossing into Hungary and making our way to a city called Gyor where we stayed for two nights.  Gyor was another pleasant surprise for us.  With a population of about 125,000 Gyor also had a nice pedestrian historical area, lots of shops and restaurants, two very impressive cathedrals, and LOTS of gelato vendors.  Although the city is not directly on the Danube, it clearly sees its share of tourists.  Given the relatively small size of the city, I was surprised how many Americans were there – some business travelers, many tourists, and also many military personnel.

The Basilica in Esztergom, Hungary.

Hungary has been a very pleasant experience so far.  The people are wonderful and they are big dog lovers.  In fact, Hungary has had the most pet dogs of all of the countries that we have visited so far.  We have had lots of people taking pictures of Cisco in his chariot.  On one stretch of road, a guy was stopped by the side of the road taking pictures as we went by.  Then, about a mile later, there he was again!  He kept hopping in his car and driving ahead of us to get more pictures!  This went on for several miles.  On another occasion a woman nearly ran a red light as she tried to take our picture while she was driving.  I keep wondering how many Facebook pages Cisco has appeared on.

Crossing the Danube by ferry.


We have been relatively lucky with the weather lately – it has been hot and fairly humid but not as hot as it can be at times.  I’m a bit behind in my posts, but next I’ll cover our trip to Budapest and beyond.  Stay tuned!

(LetsGoWander.World) 2016 Europe Cycling Tour Austria Bratislava Cisco Danube EuroVelo 6 Gyor Hungary Slovakia Vienna https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/8/the-dog-days-of-summer Tue, 09 Aug 2016 18:31:28 GMT
Half Way There! https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/7/half-way-there Today we are in Linz, Austria.  To date, we have come just over 1500 miles through 5 countries and we have reached the half way mark on our journey to the Black Sea.  Since the last post, we have followed the Danube through Germany, watching it grow from a small river to a large scenic river.  These last two weeks have taken us along some scenic routes through several small German towns, as well as a couple of larger cities.  I made a short video of our trip from Burgundy through Bavaria - check it out below.

Coming out of Tuttlingen, construction along the river forced us to take an alternate route up through a hilly forested area.  It was definitely a beautiful route, but difficult with lots of hills up to 10% in grade.  It was in this section that I developed a particular dislike for e-bikes.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, e-bikes have an integrated electrical motor powered by a rechargeable battery which “assists” the rider as he/she pedals.  So, as we’re slogging along up a steep hill at a snail’s pace, here comes granny on her e-bike blowing past us while barely breaking sweat.  OK, maybe my problem is that I’m jealous.  E-bikes have become quite popular in Europe and many people use them for bicycle touring.  In a way, they make the experience more accessible to a wider audience, but I have to say they are rather demoralizing for the rest of us. Riding along the Danube

Our steepest hill so far came on July 11 – it was a 20% grade according to the sign.  It was so ridiculously steep, riding up the hill was completely out of the question.  In fact, pushing the bike up the hill was damn near impossible.  Cisco had to get out and walk.  A very nice person who lives at the top of the hill had a lovely picnic table in the shade with a drinking fountain for cyclists (or whoever wandered by). 20% Grade!

Our longest day (mileage-wise) came on July 14 when we rode 62 miles.  We had planned to ride 37 miles and stay at a campground near Dillengen, Germany but once we arrived at the campground at just after 1 pm, we were informed that the office was closed until 4 pm.  After looking around, we were underwhelmed by the looks of the campground and decided to continue on to the next town to see if we could find a place to stay there.  Barry assured me that it was only 18 miles.  25 miles later, we finally pulled into Donauworth and luckily were able to find a hotel with a room available that accepted dogs (phew!).

I have been surprised by how many businesses in Europe close down for several hours during the middle of the day.  Somehow I thought this was a practice only in warmer climates (to avoid the hottest hours of the day), but it is very common in France and Germany, especially in smaller towns and rural areas.  Sometimes it presents a problem for us in addition to the “everything is closed on Sunday” rule. Cisco on his first ferry trip.

On our way towards the town of Regensburg, Germany we were cycling on the bike path alongside the Danube when suddenly the path ended at a boat dock with a ferry parked at it.  Ahead was a narrow gorge with no way through other than by boat.  So, we paid our 21 euros for us, our 2 bikes, one dog, and one dog trailer to board the ferry.  It turned out to be the easiest 5 miles of the trip!  Taking a ferry through the gorge.

Eventually, our travels took us to Passau – our last stay in Germany.  Passau is where people often start and/or end their bike tours or boat cruises along the Danube.  The route from Passau to Vienna is the most popular bike route in Europe.  I was concerned that the path would be crowded with cyclists like the Cherry Creek bike path in Denver on a sunny Saturday morning, but that’s really not the case.  Mostly we notice the number of cyclists when we stop in a town along the way – and then they are everywhere!  We’ve even seen a few people hauling their dogs along like us.  After Passau, we crossed into Austria.  As with other border crossings so far, there was no indication of exactly where the border was but soon we noticed that the license plates indicated A for Austria.  River cruise port in Passau.

Since we are in the busiest part of our route during the height of summer vacation season, we have planned out our route and accommodations through the next few weeks which will take us all the way through Hungary.  We have until mid-August to exit the EU (Schengen zone) based on our tourist visa which allows us to spend 90 days out of any 180-day period, so we are on track to come in just under that limit.  Once we are out of the Schengen zone, we will have more flexibility to linger in places if we want to since we will have 90 days to spend in each country. Bikes parked in the Hauptplatz square in Linz, Austria.

(LetsGoWander.World) 2016 Europe Cycling Tour Austria Danube Germany bicycle touring ferries https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/7/half-way-there Mon, 25 Jul 2016 16:11:31 GMT
Goodbye France, Hello Rhine River https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/7/rhine-river You could say that our last night in France was somewhat anti-climactic.  We camped at a depressing little campground in Mulhouse, ate pizza for dinner, and listened to a loud techno-pop concert that went on well into the night at the park next door.  The next day, we were back on the road on our way to Switzerland.  As we crossed a bridge on our way into Basel, Switzerland, we got our second glimpse of the Rhine river on this trip (the first one was on our train ride from Frankfurt). Riding through downtown Basel along the Rhine.

Basel is really a beautiful city – much more so than I had anticipated.  The Rhine flows at a pretty high rate right through the city, and the banks are lined with walking paths, restaurants and cafes.  On hot days, many people don swimsuits and float down the Rhine with their towels and clothing in water tight bags.  We took a rest day in Basel, and spent it walking around the picturesque city and getting lost on the tram system.  One of the most immediately obvious differences between France and Switzerland is the prices.  The hotel we stayed in cost more than twice the exact same hotel that we stayed in only 60 miles away in France.  Food prices were generally even higher than what we saw in Paris. Lunch spot along the banks of the Rhine.

Making our way out of Basel, we followed along the Rhine river and were treated to several beautiful scenes along the way.  So far, the Rhine takes the prize for the most picturesque river along our route.  Since getting to this part of the route, the number of cycle tourists has at least quadrupled.  I’m not sure if this is because of the location or because we are now in July when summer vacations officially start for Europeans.  Both the Eurovelo 6 and Eurovelo 15 routes follow the Rhine in this area. Signage along the route.

We camped at a crowded campground on the banks of the Rhine in Germany where the tent camping area was full of cycle tourists.  Cycle tourists come in all forms – there are those that travel lightly with minimal gear, there are those that are on paid packages that provide bicycles and transport gear from town to town, and there are those more like us with more gear.  There are a surprising number of families on bike tours – many with babies and toddlers in trailers and even young children riding their own loaded bicycles. Fellow campers watching the show put on by Mr. Speedo.

These campgrounds offer great people watching opportunities.  At this particular campground, we saw a couple whom we have seen a few times along the route.  They have a tandem bicycle that is half recumbent bike (for her) and half regular bike (for him).  We also had Mr. Speedo (thus named for his practice of stripping down to his Speedo in order to set up his campsite) who rides a reverse tricycle with all of his gear carried in the front of the bike.  So far, we have not run into any other American cycle tourists and have only seen 1 or 2 other people carrying dogs with them. Barry in front of the Rheinfalls

After leaving the campground, our next stop was near the Rheinfalls which is the largest plains falls in Europe.  The Rhine is running high at the moment, so the falls were quite spectacular.  The day was a beautiful sunny, warm day and there were lots of people enjoying the falls.  We stayed at a hotel within walking distance of the falls. Rheinfalls

Our last day before the next rest day took us from the Rhine to the beginning of the Danube river.  This was one of our most difficult riding days with plenty of hill climbing on a hot day.  On my regular bike without all of the gear, this would have been a challenging ride but it was much more so with all of the gear.  The route was mostly uphill with grades up to 14% which is more than we can ride up with all of our gear, so there were a couple of spots where we had to push our bikes.  Unfortunately, pushing these bikes with all of the gear is nearly as difficult as riding them up such a steep hill.  But, we were treated to expansive views at the top where I expected the family Von Trapp to come skipping along at any minute. Elevation profile Currently, we are in Tuttlingen, Germany which is located near the headwaters of the Danube.  Here the Danube is rather unspectactular - barely as big as the Platte river that runs through Denver.  But this marks the beginning of the last stage of this tour as we will follow the Danube all the way to the Black Sea.  At this point, we have covered over 1100 miles in 4 different countries but we still have almost 2000 miles to go.

(LetsGoWander.World) 2016 Europe Cycling Tour Danube Germany Rheinfalls Rhine river Switzerland camping https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/7/rhine-river Sat, 09 Jul 2016 09:13:29 GMT
The Burgundy Region: Good Food, Good Wine, Good Riding https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/6/burgundy Since we arrived in the Loire valley and went for our castle and wine-tasting tour, we have been riding west along the Loire river, then picking up the Saone river and finally the Le Doubs river.  This has taken us through some 400 miles of rolling hills, vineyards, and agricultural land.  The further west we’ve come, the rolling hills have become bigger with more limestone cliffs along the rivers and the architecture has started to look a little more Swiss. Architecture is looking more Swiss-like

Starting out in Orleans, the lousy weather continued to plague us with misty, cloudy, cool and windy days.  As a result of the rain, we elected to rent alternate accommodations at the campgrounds like mobile homes, bungalows or basic chalets.  These are actually a good alternative to tent camping as they have beds, basic kitchens and often private bathrooms for a better price than a hotel room.  There were many times when we watched and/or listened to the rain pour down outside, happy to not be in a tent.  These options were not available in northern France, but are pretty common in this area. Different lodging options at campgrounds. Riding along this section has been very enjoyable – primarily on bike paths along canals and rivers.  I hadn’t realized before how many canals there are in France.  It appears that one common vacation activity for Europeans is to rent a boat to navigate around the country using this system of canals.  There are also a lot of people who have taken old barges and renovated them into house boats which are parked along the canals.

In the town of Pouilly-sur-Loire, we took a rest day and went on a wine tour with a local expert.  She took us to see some of the local vineyards, discussed the types of grapes grown in the region, explained the growing practices, and drove us to a few different winemakers.  At one, we took a tour of their facility where they make, age and bottle the wine, which was small but impressive nonetheless.  We also tasted several of the wines, including some directly from the oak barrels where the wine is aging in their cave/cellar.  This region, as well as the neighboring region Sancerre, is best known for its Sauvignon Blanc, of which I happen to be a big fan!

Wine tasting in Pouilly-sur-Loire

Around June 20th, the weather finally started to change for the better.  I can’t even explain how big of a deal this was!  For a whole month, we had woken up to overcast, foggy skies and I was beginning to think that was just how it would be.  Suddenly, we were waking up to sun and blue skies!  It makes the riding (and everything else) a whole lot more enjoyable for sure.

Beaune - wine capital of Burgundy.

On one rest day, we took a short train ride into the town of Beaune which is considered the wine capital of the Burgundy region.  The center of the city is the old walled city with cobblestone streets and cafes and wine stores everywhere.  We sampled some excellent traditional burgundy dishes here like Coq au Vin, Beef Burgundy, Poached Eggs in Burgundy sauce, and Escargot.  Yum!

Future escargot.

A couple of days ago, we rode through a city called Besancon.  This ancient city was built on the inside of a horseshoe shaped bend in the Le Doubs river.  The area has large hills with granite cliffs and an ancient citadel was built on the very top of the hill inside the horseshoe.  For ease of navigation, a tunnel was dug underneath the citadel which allows for both boat traffic and pedestrian and bicycle traffic.  We were quite happy to see that we wouldn’t have to ride over the hill, but could just cut through the tunnel to the other side.  The following day (which was a rest day), we took the bus back to Besancon to tour the citadel.  There is an extensive museum there about WWII, the Nazi occupation, and the French Resistance.  There is also (oddly) a small zoo and obviously some great views of the city and the river.

View from the citadel in Besancon.

Our time in France is coming to a close.  On Sunday, we enter into Switzerland and then we will criss-cross the Swiss/German border for several days.  France is the country that we spend the most time in during our bike tour – after this, we will move more quickly from one country to the next.  In some ways, this will be interesting but it will also mean an adjustment in each country.  A new language, new grocery stores, new road signs, new foods, new customs.  Stay tuned!

(LetsGoWander.World) 2016 Europe Cycling Tour Beaune Besancon Burgundy region France Pouilly-sur-Loire canals https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/6/burgundy Thu, 30 Jun 2016 18:02:59 GMT
The First Month: Expectations and Reality https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/6/expectations-and-reality Just over one month ago, we arrived in Frankfurt ready to begin our adventure.  Since then, we have ridden 23 days covering just over 1100 kilometers in that time.  That puts us a little less than our targeted average of 50 KM per day, but we planned for some lighter mileage in the first couple of weeks.  Over the course of these last few weeks, there have been a few things that have ended up being a surprise to us – much different than our expectations.  I’m sure there will be more of these surprises to come, but here’s what we’ve found so far.

The Weather

This is a big one.  The weather has been – in a word – lousy.  We can count the number of days with sun during the last month on one hand.  As spring has turned into summer at home, I have seen (with envy) friends posts photos on Facebook of outdoor fun in the sun with flip flops and shorts.  Meanwhile, we are still wearing long pants and long sleeve shirts most of the time.  I am told that this is atypical for June in France, where normally temperatures are warm and there is less rain.  Luckily, we have been fairly fortunate with the rain.  We can also count on one hand the number of days that we have had to ride in more than a fine mist.  Most of the time we have managed to get to our destination prior to the rain showers and have only had to ride in a downpour on a few days.

Riding in the rain


Over the last couple of days, summer has made a sudden appearance in France and temperatures have soared into the 80s and 90s.  Not to be picky, but it sure would have been nice to have those spring temperatures in between!

Route Planning and Navigating

We decided to start with the Eurovelo routes for our route planning.  There are 15 Eurovelo routes that stretch all over Europe and they are basically a collection of local and regional routes that have been pieced together into longer routes.  Some Eurovelo routes are more developed than others – they are rated “Planned”, “Not Fully Realized”, and “Fully Realized”.  The difference between “Fully Realized” and “Not Fully Realized” became clear on the first part of our trip where we followed Eurovelo 3 from Aachen to Orleans.  Eurovelo 3 stretches all the way from northern Norway to Santiago de Compostela in Spain which is why it is called the Pilgrims Route (Santiago is at the end of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route).  Several of the cycle tourists we met on the route were on their way to Santiago.  The part of EV3 that we took was all rated as “Not Fully Realized” – we found that this can mean anything from perfect (nice paved path with good signage) to virtually non-existent.  And there is really no way to know ahead of time what to expect.  It’s possible to use Google Maps street view to look at some roads along the way, but Google Maps doesn’t cover many of the routes we are on.  As a result, some days are easy navigating days with nice road surfaces, others are on dirt paths that are OK in dry weather, and still others are difficult to nearly impossible to ride on. 

Is this the route?

The only thing that we can really do about this is to be flexible and adapt as we go.  There have been a number of days when we have abandoned our original route and figured out an alternative along the way.  In France it’s good to know that the less busy roads begin with D (like D70 or D978) whereas the busier highways begin with either A or N.Once we arrived in Orleans, we started following Eurovelo 6 which will take us all the way to the Black Sea.  Of all of the Eurovelo routes, it is one of the most developed and most traveled one.  Also known as “The Rivers Route”, it follows the Loire, the Rhine, and the Danube rivers.  So far, the part of the route we have been on is all rated “Fully Realized” and it makes a big difference.  Most of the route has been on bike paths that either follow the Loire along the levee or follow a canal near the Loire.  The route is well marked and in good condition.

Path along a canal

The French are not snobs

The French seem to have a bit of a reputation in the US for their snobbery, especially regarding the French language.  Our experience has been quite different.  We have found the French to be laid-back, helpful, friendly people.  Barry and I don’t speak any French, although we’ve picked up a few words and phrases along the way.  And, in the areas that we are traveling through, we often run into people that don’t speak any English.  However, they are always willing to work with us or help us out – using sign language or whatever means to get the point across.

Also, we have found that people go out of their way to point us in the right direction, help us through a tricky interchange, help push our bikes up a short steep grade, or offer help in getting around a flooded area.  The other day we stopped for a moment to rest and someone stopped to ask if everything was OK.  We also have people regularly stop us along the way to ask us where we are from and where we are headed.

On the bike paths, it is uncommon for someone not to offer up a “Bonjour” and or a wave as they pass – whether they are walking, biking or running.  And sometimes we get an even more enthusiastic double thumbs up greeting from those who are impressed with our heavy load.

Where does all the time go?

Given that we are only averaging a relatively short 50 KM per day, I had envisioned having all kinds of time to do things like read and write, go for long walks, and explore things along the way.  While we have some time to do those things, it’s not nearly as much as I had thought it would be.  Where does all the time go?  Well, the riding itself just takes longer than we thought it would.  While we average the speed that we thought we would when cycling, we end up spending more time stopping to check the route, getting off-course, doubling back, and re-routing when necessary.  Add in a stop for lunch and a couple more shorter stops along the way, and we are usually on the road for between 4-5 hours.

Cisco in his Chariot

Then, there is the time spent packing and unpacking the panniers and loading and unloading the bikes.  This takes more time than you might think.  It’s faster when camping than when hoteling, but either way we spend a good 2 hours with these activities every day.  Then, once we are at our destination, we have to figure out what we are going to eat.  Usually, this involves a trip to a local grocery store - sometimes a short walk, other times a slightly longer bike ride – where we will pick up something for dinner (if not eating out) and also something for breakfast and lunch the following day.  There goes at least another hour.  We also generally have at least a little laundry to do almost daily, which we either do in the sink or occasionally in a washer/dryer at a campground.  Another 30 minutes.  So, at the end of the day, there’s not nearly as much time to just sit and relax as we may have thought.  Oh well, poor us.  This is also why the rest days are good.

Cows crossing the bike path


So far, despite those things that didn’t line up with our expectations, we are having a good time.  We have both been happy to find that our bodies are holding up pretty well – I think we both half-expected to be sidelined by a knee problem or a bad back by now – but that hasn’t been the case.  At this point, we don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be able to make it to the Black Sea as intended.

(LetsGoWander.World) 2016 Europe Cycling Tour EV3 EV6 Eurovelo France expectations navigation reality https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/6/expectations-and-reality Wed, 22 Jun 2016 19:00:33 GMT
Getting to the Loire Valley https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/6/getting-to-the-loire-valley After leaving Paris, we had 5 days of riding to get down to the Loire Valley.  Originally, our plan had been to ride along the Seine river, but flooding forced us to change those plans.  The path along the river was mostly underwater as were a couple of the campgrounds that we planned to stay at.  So, instead we modified our route to ride on the roads instead.  The good news was that this made the mileage shorter than it would have been along the river.  The bad news was that a few of the roads had more traffic than we would have liked.

On the second day out of Paris, we stayed overnight in Fontainebleau.  This is a town that grew up around the Chateau of Fontainebleau and is located in the middle of the Fontainebleau forest.  Although the chateau was closed on the day that we were there, we were able to walk around the beautiful gardens.  Having visited the gardens of Versailles only a few days earlier, we enjoyed Fontainebleau for its lack of crowds and carefully groomed landscape.  The nice weather could also have played a role in our enjoyment as well.

The old town of Fontainebleau is a very walkable town with many cafes, bars and restaurants – many with outdoor seating.  For dinner, we found a pizzeria down a pedestrian street and sat outside to enjoy the nice weather and our wood-fired pizza.  Fountainebleau (the town) is home to a School of Mines as well as a prestigious business school, so there are lots of young people around (OK, just writing that makes me feel old), and also plenty of international students as well.  I had some nice pictures of Fountainebleau (the town and the chateau) but they were lost in the computer fiasco (more about that to follow).

The next two days passed without much news to report, except that our laptop decided to crap out on us and I came down with a cold.  Once we arrived in Orleans, we settled into our hotel room across from the train station.  When we aren’t camping, we have mostly been staying in Ibis hotels, which are a chain of mid-range business-oriented hotels across Europe.  What they lack in character and charm, they make up for in consistency and affordability.  They have comfortable beds, free wifi that actually works, decent breakfasts, and most of them accept dogs for a minimal charge.  They also have been great about providing a secure place to store our bicycles.

Ultimately, we ended up having to purchase a new laptop and sending the old one home (which was an adventure in and of itself).  Of course, in France the computers all speak French.  Go figure.  We figured out how to set the language as English, but we still have a keyboard with the keys all in the wrong place.  It makes typing fun.

On Saturday, we had booked a full-day tour with Odyssee en val de loire.  Although I was tempted to cancel and stay in bed all day, I rallied to the occasion with some encouragement from Barry.  Stephane, who owns Odyssee picked us up in her van at 9 am.  Originally, another couple was to join us on the tour, but they cancelled as a result of the train strikes since they were planning to take the train down from Paris, so we ended up having a private tour all to ourselves. Here we are in front of Chambord during a small break in the rain showers.

We started out at Chambord which is a chateau built by King Francis I.  He built the chateau as a hunting lodge starting in 1519, although it is enormous in size with 77 staircases, 282 fireplaces and 426 rooms.  Also, the park that surrounds Chambord is enclosed by a wall that is the same circumference as metropolitan Paris – 32 kilometers long.  One of the highlights of Chambord is the main central staircase which is a double spiral staircase with hollow inner column.  It is quite impressive to see. Double spiral staircase

Up until a few days prior, Chambord had been closed as it was surrounded by water due to flooding but luckily that didn’t impact our visit at all.

The second stop was Cheverny.  After a fabulous lunch of savory crepes, we visited Chateau Cheverny which is privately owned.  The family resides in one wing of the chateau and charge an entrance fee to tour the rest of the chateau as well as the grounds.  I suppose it’s a good way to afford the unbelievable amount of upkeep involved with these properties.  Cheverny is completely furnished and decorated based on the period and it’s an impressive chateau with beautifully landscaped grounds as well. Cheverny - the family that owns this chateau lives in the left wing while the rest is open to the public

The final stop was Chenonceau which was built in the 16th century over the river Cher.  King Henry II provided the chateau to his mistress Diane de Poitiers, much to the irritation of his wife Catherine de’ Medici.  After his death, his widow Catherine removed the mistress from the property and took it over for herself.  This chateau is also privately owned today and was used as a hospital during WWI and in WWII it served as a passage across the river for the Resistance, allowing people to escape to the free zone on the other side of the river. Chenonceau

Along the way, Stephane plied us with lots of historical and cultural information about the region and also mapped out a self-guided walking tour to take of the city of Orleans the following day. 

During the walking tour, we could see that the Loire river was still quite high.  Hopefully our route over the next few days will not be flooded, but we still continue to see more than normal amounts of rain here in France.  Orleans is where we transition from the Eurovelo 3 route to the Eurovelo 6 route which follows the Loire for the next few hundred miles.

Sorry for the gap in blog posts – we are just now getting everything back on our computer to be functional again.  We’re hoping this laptop lasts a little longer than the last one did.

(LetsGoWander.World) 2016 Europe Cycling Tour Chambord Chateau Chenonceau Cheverny Eurovelo Eurovelo 6 Loire Valley flooding https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/6/getting-to-the-loire-valley Thu, 16 Jun 2016 20:25:05 GMT
Paris https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/6/paris We rode into Paris on a Friday afternoon, coming in along one of the canals.  As we got nearer to the city, there was more traffic and more people and then finally more chaos.  As we got into the metropolitan area of Paris, the number of people on the streets – walking, biking and driving – was staggering.  We came in on a busy road with a bike lane that was actually a separate tiny little road between the sidewalk and the main road.  At times the bike lane was blocked by scooters, pedestrians, or trucks, but it was the first glance into how bicycle friendly Paris is for being such a large city.  With so much going on and so many people around, it was all we could do to concentrate on the traffic and the lights and our route ahead.

View from our AirBNB apartment


We had reserved an AirBNB in Paris for the weekend several months ago.  It was located in the 18th arrondisement (district) of Paris on a narrow street with a metro stop just a few feet away and several boulangeries, cafes, and small markets within a short distance.  It was a one bedroom apartment – about 600 sq ft – which is pretty big by Paris standards and it was located in an old building with a tiny elevator.


Given that the ride into Paris was a very long day and we were sweaty and probably (ok definitely) a bit stinky, I was happy to hear that the owners of the apartment would not be able to meet us but would leave the keys in their mailbox.  Upon arriving, we began unloading the bikes and I shuttled our panniers and the dog up to the apartment via the tiny elevator while Barry secured the bikes in a bicycle storage room located on the first floor.  On the second trip up to the apartment, I had a horrible sinking feeling in my chest as the apartment door closed shut behind me.  I had left the keys on the kitchen counter, so now they were locked in along with Cisco.


So much for not meeting the owners…  A quick text to them brought them headed back in our direction and 30 minutes later we awkwardly greeted them in all our sweaty, helmet-headed glory.  Swell.


Eiffel tower shrouded in fog


Once we were finally settled in the apartment, we headed out for a quick stroll around the neighborhood and picked up a bottle of wine and some pastries to top off the dinner we had at the Asian street food stall across the street.


The weather in Paris was a continuation of what we had seen over the previous week – foggy, misty and chilly.  I was beginning to wonder whether Europe was actually in the southern hemisphere and it was winter now.  On Saturday, we went to Versailles to tour the chateau and the surrounding gardens.  Given the petrol strike, the subway strike, the rail strike, and the flooding on the Seine river, it actually wasn’t too hard to get to Versailles and we enjoyed walking around the gardens and seeing the chateau.  The following morning we went down to the Eiffel tower as we had purchased reserved tickets to go to the top at 10:30 am.  Unfortunately, it was another foggy chilly day so the view from the top was uninteresting to say the least.  For the rest of the day, we walked around town.  First, along the Seine where all boats were moored since the high water kept them from fitting under any of the bridges.  Then visiting the (outside of the) Louvre because it was closed due to the flooding issues and also walking toward the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs de Elysee which was closed to car traffic due to the upcoming Euro soccer championships in Paris.




On Monday, we had to turn our apartment back over to its owners and get back on our bikes.  As we were just ready to pedal off, we were stopped by two Parisians (who apparently didn’t know each other).  One wanted to know about our trip and the other one was interested in Cisco.  We chatted with them for a while and they discovered that they had both visited Colorado Springs in the past.  They wished us bon voyage and off we went.  Navigating out of metropolitan Paris was similar to the trip in – busy roads with lots going on – but motorists tend to be very vigilant of bicyclists.  Once we reached the Seine river, we had to improvise our route as most of our pre-planned route turned out to be underwater.  We ran into construction, detours, and more flooding for the next 2 hours as we worked our way out of the suburbs.


High water on the Seine river


On the whole, we enjoyed Paris, but a little sunshine would have been a welcome addition to the weekend.  Also, we have decided that for the purpose of this trip, we will probably avoid staying in the city center of any large cities (like Paris) unless our route happens to take us through the city center.  It’s too stressful trying to navigate through a city on these fully loaded bikes and staging the bikes on a busy city street is also logistically challenging.  All in all, a good time and also a good learning experience.

(LetsGoWander.World) 2016 Europe Cycling Tour AirBNB Eiffel tower France Paris Seine Versailles flooding https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/6/paris Tue, 07 Jun 2016 19:54:18 GMT
So Much Rain! https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/6/so-much-rain After a relaxing rest day in the town of Fourmies with great weather, we went to bed with the expectation of all day rain for our ride the next day.  At around 5 am, I awoke to what sounded like heavy rain already, but it just turned out to be Cisco taking a shower.  You see, Cisco likes confined spaces because they make him feel secure, so he likes to sleep in the shower or the bathtub.  The shower at the hotel was just the right size for him, so he decided to curl up in there for the night.  However, the shower faucet was rather low and so when he bumped it he ended up turning the shower on himself.  He was none too happy about it either.

Since we were already up, we got an early start on our ride for the day.  The way out of town was a bit of a hill interval workout, but then we turned on to a beautiful paved path through the forest.  Cisco even stretched his legs a bit running beside us for a while which I think more than made up for the unpleasant wake up shower.  We made our way through a cute little town called Hirson where the church bells were ringing and the local boulangerie was packed with people picking up their morning croissants. 

We stopped to pick up a baguette sandwich for lunch and continued on our way.  The weather held out for us, with only fog and cool-ish temperatures and the path was beautifully paved the entire way to Guise.  And, this was the first day that the route was more downhill than up – woohoo, what fun!

This path was an old converted railway line, so along the way there were buildings like this one that used to be old railway stations that have been converted to homes now.  Many of them still have a little building next door that used to house the bathrooms – complete with the signs for Dames and Hommes. Old Railway Station

In Guise we found our campground relatively easily and set up our camp.  This was the earliest that we had finished up a ride and we had some time to kill, so we went in search of food.  Unfortunately, this was a Sunday and on Sundays in France everything is closed – and I mean everything.  We had pulled in to town just a bit late to catch even the supermarket before closing.  So, we headed to – wait for it – McDonalds.  It was the only thing open.  Good old American capitalism at work.

Camping in Guise - dry for the moment. The next morning, our luck with the weather turned, and it was raining lightly when we woke up.  As we packed up and got ready to go, the weather just continued to get worse.  The rain picked up and so did the wind.  Yay.  As we headed out, neither of our Garmin bike computers were working quite right, so we ended up turning down a one-way street the wrong way.  A man in some kind of work truck explained this to us (at least I assume he did, but I couldn’t understand a thing he said so I just stared at him).  He went on to tell us more helpful information that we couldn’t understand in the slightest.  Finally, we got headed down the right road, and then our GPS computers told us to turn right down a seldom used overgrown unpaved path, so we did.  And, it led us to a rutted muddy messy path that was barely passable.  I won’t bore you with all of the details, but this went on for a while until our bicycles were caked with mud and we had to walk with them just to get through.  Finally, we got to a paved road and decided to ditch the official (?) EuroVelo 3 route that was programmed into the GPS computers and just follow paved roads to our next destination.  It was just way too rainy to deal with any unpaved roads or paths.  We squirted water from our water bottles on our chains to wash off enough mud so that we could pedal, and headed off.  This was after I cleaned up my bike a bit After a quick lunch under a shelter that we were happy to find (and the addition of some more clothing to head off the chills), we finally pedaled into our next campground in Le Fere at around 2 pm… in the pouring rain…  The campground manager asked us if we were camping with a tent by making an upside-down V with his hands (this seems to be the universal sign language for tent at all campgrounds) and then looked at us with pity when we said “yes”.  He walked us over to a building, and suggested that perhaps we could camp in the laundry room instead.  It was just a room about 8 by 15 feet with 3 sinks in it, but it was dry!  Yes!  We would love to camp in the laundry room.  He later came with a key to the room for us and a hose to clean off the bikes.  Wow, what service for 9 euros!  We were extremely grateful for his kindness. At least someone is warm and dry.

The next morning, we took advantage of a brief break in the rain and headed out once more, determined to avoid any mud.  The route on this day took us mostly along a path which followed a canal.  About halfway, the signs for EuroVelo 3 took us away from the canal even though our GPS route once again wanted to take us down an unpaved muddy path.  The day started out with light mist which turned into a heavy mist which turned into rain.  Around 3 pm, we finally pulled up to our hotel in the suburbs of Compiegne.  I can only imagine what the woman behind the desk must think of us – two soaked people on bicycles loaded with gear and a trailer with a dog.  But, she was very gracious and allowed us to store our bicycles and trailer in an unused meeting room.  The trailer has proven to be pretty water proof so at least we don’t show up with a wet dog.

The news is filled with stories of the flooding around northern France – luckily we haven’t experienced any of this (yet).  I’m hoping that our upcoming weekend in Paris doesn’t turn out to be a total washout and that our route there isn’t flooded.  We have had reservations for an AirBNB in Paris for a few months, so we’re doing what we can to stay on schedule for that.

Thank you to all of you who have sent us messages and comments along the way.  I apologize that my responses may be delayed as we don’t always have wifi access.

(LetsGoWander.World) 2016 Europe Cycling Tour EuroVelo 3 France camping flooding mud rain https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/6/so-much-rain Wed, 01 Jun 2016 07:18:08 GMT
One Week In https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/5/one-week-in A week ago tomorrow we started out on our bikes and since then we have ridden across western Belgium and entered into France.  To start with, we are going with 3 days of riding followed by 1 rest day.  At some point we will increase this a bit, but for these initial weeks we are still getting our bike legs.  We spent the last rest day in Namur, Belgium which was a charming city of wandering streets lined with old stone buildings at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers.  Like many towns, it has an old citadel situated high up on a hill overlooking the town. Citadel overlooking Namur

The next stop was a campground outside of Charleroi, Belgium.  The route from Namur to Charleroi was primarily along the Sambre river, partly through an industrial area and partly through a beautiful rural area.  This campground was quieter than the last, with only the sounds of birds and cows to wake us up.  

After we setup camp, I made a quick trip to the local Carrefour market to pick up some items for dinner and then we settled in to watch the pilot episode of Breaking Bad.   Settling in to watch Breaking Bad We ran into a couple from Australia who were on a six week bike tour of France – we saw them on the path and then they later pulled into the same campground.  They had elected to purchase bicycles in Germany when they arrived rather than bring bikes on an airline.  They were traveling very light and packed up to leave very early in the morning, but we caught up with them only a mile or so from the campground where they seemed to be spending a lot of time looking for the next boulangerie.

The next day, the route continued along the Sambre river and we passed into France on our way to Maubeuge.  There were several quaint towns along the way before arriving at our hotel.  Like Charleroi, Maubeuge is a fairly industrial city without much to recommend it.  We walked around the city center quite a bit and found a good pastry shop though J.  The next day, we packed up and started on to Fourmies.  The route quickly turned to a narrow path of crushed rock which we followed for about 25 miles through rural forests and pasture land.  The path went from a nice hard packed dirt surface to a single track trail to a muddy mess and back again.  It certainly made for slow going.   Some locals interested in our lunch. Then, when we stopped for lunch, I realized that my phone had fallen out of my pack somewhere along the line.  Luckily, we were able to trace its location with Barry’s phone.  Barry volunteered to ride back to get it which added a 7 mile round trip to his mileage for the day.  I solemnly promised not to lose my phone again.

About 30 minutes before getting to our destination for the next 2 nights, the skies opened up and it started pouring on us.  Also around this time, our GPS units stopped giving us any logical directions, instructing us to turn down a forest path that looked like it hadn’t been used in years.  After a wrong turn or two, we finally made it to our hotel for the evening which is located just outside of town near a forested area and 3 small recreational lakes.  Fortunately, there was a very nice restaurant next door where we had a delicious dinner – terrine to start with, chicken in cream sauce for Barry, trout almondine for me, and crème caramel for dessert all accompanied by a carafe of Cotes du Rhone.  It was a great way to finish off a very challenging day.

(LetsGoWander.World) 2016 Europe Cycling Tour Belgium France first days https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/5/one-week-in Sat, 28 May 2016 14:56:05 GMT
Let's Get This Show on the Road https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/5/lets-get-this-show-on-the-road Day 1 - Just over the border of Belgium


On Saturday we set off from Aachen at around 10 am.  The day was warm (but not too warm) and sunny.  We found our way out of town without too much trouble, and soon we found ourselves on a bike path leading over a hill with a pretty steep grade.  It felt a little soon for the legs, but we managed.  Before long, the standard greeting on the path turned from “Guten Morgen” to “Bonjour” and so we knew we had crossed over the border into Belgium.


The first day was different than we expected – mostly rural countryside and almost exclusively on a hard packed dirt path.  At one point the dirt path deteriorated into something resembling more of a goat path, but luckily that was short-lived.  The first half of the day had a lot of undulating hills and turned out to be a pretty good workout for the legs.


During that first day, there were two words that randomly kept coming to mind – the first was pastoral because of all of the pastoral green rolling hills, old stone houses, and steepled churches with ringing bells.  The second word was jettison – which was what I was wanting to do with about half of the gear in my panniers.  This was really the first time that we had ridden totally FULLY loaded and it was an eye-opener.  We had planned to do a 3 day test ride back home to check out all of our gear and make any adjustments as needed.  However, it snowed non-stop for the 3 days that we had set aside for the test ride and we just weren’t equipped for snow and freezing temperatures so we had to skip it.  I had previously questioned if we needed bikes that were so beefy (read heavy) but now I am so glad for the bikes that we had built with their sturdy frames and components.  The fully loaded bikes are large and awkward to maneuver and take some getting used to, but by the end of the first day I felt much more comfortable than at first.

18th century chateau

We camped at a campground near the town of Soumagne for the first night.  I walked into town to pick up some pasta for dinner while Barry took Cisco on a walk.  The campground was somewhat like a resort with a pond with a walking trail and a water park, not to mention hot showers, bathrooms, and laundry facilities.  Most of the camp sites were obviously rented on a long-term basis with trailers parked on them permanently – presumably people use them as their weekend getaways.  There were a few other trailers and RVs just staying for the night and we were the only tent campers.  It’s still pretty early in the season.

The second day started out with cloudy skies and the promise of some rain.  In fact, it started to rain just as soon as we thought about taking the tent down.  After we’d packed up and got going, the road immediately started out with a 10% grade hill that nearly did my legs in.  Not a great way to start the morning.  As we went along, it was clear that day 2 would be very different from day 1.  We were on roads for most of the day, the weather was wet all day with periods of heavier rain, and navigation proved a little difficult due to several closed roads and paths.  But, we finally pulled into our hotel for the night around 3:30 pm.  Our hotel was an old 18th century chateau which was very charming and comfortable, squeaky floors and all.

Lunch break

On day three, the rain slowed to a drizzle and then eventually stopped although the temperature stayed in the lower 50’s and the wind kicked up some.  After heading out mid-morning, we had to take a detour which added about 5 miles to our route.  Hats off to the Belgians as the route was very well marked today which made navigation much easier.  Also, we have finally figured out the navigation features of our Garmin computers and gotten all of the options set up correctly which should help us too.   Eventually we picked up the bike route along the Meuse river and followed it to Namur, home for the next two nights as tomorrow is our first rest day.

The first three days have been good and physically challenging.  Today we both felt a bit sore and are happy to have a day off tomorrow.  Cisco agrees.

(LetsGoWander.World) 2016 Europe Cycling Tour Belgium camping first days https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/5/lets-get-this-show-on-the-road Mon, 23 May 2016 19:12:29 GMT
Getting Started https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/5/getting-started Putting the panniers on the bikes at the Frankfurt airport



Well we made it to the starting point of our bike tour – Aachen, Germany.  Two days ago we embarked on our journey from Denver to Frankfurt.  My parents were gracious to help us get all of our stuff to the airport and checked in.  I had been dreading this day for weeks – envisioning the spectacle that we would be at the check-in counter.  Not that we weren’t a spectacle with our 2 bikes, 1 dog, huge kennel and 3 huge bags, but the Lufthansa agents were unfazed and very kind to us, especially with regards to our dog.  This was his first flight so we had spent a couple of months acclimating him to the kennel giving him treats whenever he went in on his own.  So, at the airport he was happy to hop into the kennel as asked.  We elected to check the bicycles unboxed as Lufthansa’s website indicates that this is preferred.  I was a little nervous about how this would go, especially given how they were manhandled by the guy that came to get them, but I knew that the bikes were built to be durable.

Special thanks to our friends at Seco de Mexico for making this awesome custom bag for our dog trailer! Upon our arrival in Frankfurt, our 2 bikes, 1 dog, huge kennel and 3 huge bags came through intact and Cisco was quite happy to see us.  We had to keep him in the kennel until we passed through customs (he was not so happy about that).  The customs officials were supposed to scan his microchip and review and endorse the paperwork that we had our vet fill out (twice to get everything correct) and the USDA certify.  But in the end the customs officials didn’t even want to look at our paperwork, or scan the chip, or even look at what we had in the huge kennel.  I hope that not having the customs endorsement doesn’t cause us problems later down the road.

There was another couple at Frankfurt airport that were also starting a bike tour, only they were starting right from the airport so they spent an hour or so assembling their bikes and gear in the luggage claim area.  However, for us the next item of business was to travel by train to Aachen.  Although dogs are universally allowed on pretty much all German trains, bicycles can only travel on certain trains so we had to take 3 trains in order to reach our destination.  We traveled along the Rhine river which is lined with quaint towns and ancient castles.   Riding the trains with our gear

Transferring between trains was logistically challenging with all of our stuff, but we somehow we managed and we finally arrived at our hotel in Aachen around 8 pm.  It was a long day but now we have a day in Aachen to do some sightseeing and preparation before we start riding on Saturday.

(LetsGoWander.World) Aachen Frankfurt logistics taking bikes on a train in Germany traveling with a dog https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/5/getting-started Fri, 20 May 2016 20:15:22 GMT
60 Days Out – All of the Logistics… https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/3/60-days-out

We have this little countdown timer on our countertop at home that shows us how many days we have left before the start of our BIG ADVENTURE.  It’s fun to look at it every morning and see the time dwindling down, and now we are within the 60 day window.  Barry and I are both planners – we make lists and timelines and spreadsheets to plan everything from our vacations to our finances.  I’ve gotten a lot of questions about all of the plans and logistics involved in this kind of trip, so here are a few of the logistics involved…

Cell Phones

Using cell phones internationally is always an issue when traveling.  For short trips, you can sign up for a short term international plan through all of the major carriers to cover data usage and maybe provide cheaper call rates.  However, this is an expensive option for long term travel. 

At first, I thought that we would just bring a couple of unlocked phones with us and purchase pre-paid SIM cards as we went.  When traveling in a single country in Europe, this is a good option because the SIM cards are pretty inexpensive and give you good coverage.  However, generally, the SIM cards are only good in a single country which is less than ideal for the type of travel we were planning to do.

One day I stumbled upon Project Fi from Google.  Project Fi piggybacks on the Sprint and T-Mobile networks and currently only works with a couple of Nexus phone models.  The service costs $20 per month for unlimited texts and domestic calls, plus $10 per month per 1 GB of data, although you only actually pay for the data you use and anything left over is credited to your account the next month.  I’m not a huge data user, so my service costs right around $30/month including the $3-4 in taxes and fees.  But the best part of Project Fi for me is the international coverage – which is available in 120+ countries including all of the countries that we have ever traveled to or plan to travel to in the future.  International data still costs the same $10 per GB and call rates vary by country but are significantly less than I was paying under my AT&T plan previously.  Also, you can make and receive regular calls over a wireless network for free. 


Since we will be using public Wi Fi in many places, we signed up for a VPN service that costs about $4 per month.  Every time we use Wi Fi to connect to the internet we will first connect to one of their servers first so that all of our internet traffic is protected and encrypted.  We can also connect to a server in the US to access any websites that don’t allow access from outside the US, like Netflix for instance.  We can even use the VPN service on our cell phones when we are using them on Wi Fi.  For more about why this is necessary, check out this article.

Credit Cards and Banking

For years, we have used credit cards almost exclusively for all of our purchases, paying off the balance in full every month.  Besides the convenience and security of doing so, we can maximize the rewards that credit card companies offer such as cash back, hotel points and airline miles.  However, almost all of the cards we used had foreign transaction fees which is obviously not ideal for international travel.  We had put up with it for a short vacations in the past, but now it was time to get serious!  So, we switched over to cards without foreign transaction fees and cancelled all other credit card accounts – because it’s just more stuff to lose track of or get stolen.

On the banking side of things, we use a bank that refunds all ATM fees both domestically and internationally which is great.  All of our bills (not that we have very many now) are set up for electronic or online payments so that we can do everything we need without snail mail (which I’ll talk about next). 

Snail Mail

I have long wished to have the option of “opting out” of all mail.  Somehow if I could just do away with a mail box so that there was no place for the mailman to stuff loads of unwanted catalogs, advertisements, and junk.  Alas, we’re just not there yet as a society, but we have worked hard at signing up for the “paperless” option on every account that we can.  Somehow there are still companies out there that stubbornly continue to send out gobs of unwanted paper no matter what you ask them to do.  So, if you plan to travel long term you have to have a plan to deal with mail.

There are companies out there that will supply you with a mailing address and will sort and filter all of your mail, scan the envelopes/covers to your account online and allow you to select which ones to discard and which ones to open.  They will then open those pieces of mail that you have selected and scan them to you.  This is a handy service, but obviously comes at a price and requires you to be comfortable with having a complete stranger open your mail.

We asked a family member (thanks mom!) to do this for us and then worked REALLY hard at getting rid of as much junk mail as possible so that this would not be a big deal for her.  Plus, I totally trust mom’s judgement on what we need to keep and what we don’t.

Health Insurance

This is a topic that I haven’t seen too many long-term travelers talk about online.  Maybe they decide to self-insure or hope for the best – who knows.  Anyway, we felt that it was important to have coverage that would cover us in the event of a catastrophic event such as an accident or illness.  Surprisingly, it’s rather difficult to find such coverage that doesn’t also have coverage for routine doctor’s appointments, medications, pregnancy and delivery, etc.  These type of extras add significant costs to health insurance even though they are also the type of costs that you can more easily manage and plan for outside of insurance coverage.

We ended up selecting a plan that is designed for long-term travelers, missionaries and expats through Cigna.  They offer two options – worldwide coverage including the US and worldwide coverage excluding the US.  As you might imagine, the option excluding the US is significantly cheaper and honestly we haven’t decided which option we will go with yet.  Although health care in the US is excellent and there is the obvious “comfort factor” of getting treated in the US for a serious accident or illness, there is excellent health care outside of the US which also can cost significantly less.  Many less developed countries have excellent health care systems with many of their physicians trained in the US – it’s a good thing to keep in mind when traveling – if something were to happen right here, where would we go and what would we do?

Traveling with a Dog

For us, this is undoubtedly the one aspect of our trip that adds the most complexity.  Bringing Cisco along will slow us down, limit where we can stay and what we can do, and make any change of plans more logistically challenging.  That being said, he’s part of our family unit and it wasn’t even a consideration to leave him at home (although I think my parents would have loved to have him).

Bringing a dog to Europe from the US does not involve any quarantine time.  Mostly it just involves a lot of planning and paperwork.  At least 21 days prior to traveling, he must be microchipped and then he must be vaccinated against rabies (in that order!).  The vet then has to fill out an animal health certificate which documents that these two items have been completed and this paper needs to be certified by a USDA veterinarian within 10 days of our arrival in Europe.  There are some additional vaccinations required for certain countries in Europe.

This is just a few of the items that we have obsessively planned for over the last few months.  Route planning, gear selection, and packing all probably deserve a post of their own, but I’ll save those for another day.

(LetsGoWander.World) international health insurance logistics planning traveling with a dog https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/3/60-days-out Wed, 16 Mar 2016 02:09:48 GMT
Good Fortunes https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/1/good-fortunes Good fortunes

A recent night out for Chinese food ended with these fortunes – predictable and unoriginal and yet exactly in line with my expectations for the upcoming year.  After years of talking, deliberating, dreaming and planning, 2016 marks the start of “what’s next” for my husband, Barry, and I.  Someday in a future post perhaps I’ll expound on those years of talking, deliberating, dreaming and planning, but for the purposes of this post I’ll just say that we decided to make a change in our lives – not a change of jobs or a change of homes or a change of scenery but all of that and more.

Last spring, we embarked on this journey without quite knowing exactly where (or when) we were headed by putting our house up for sale.  The market was better than it had been in years, and we knew that ultimately the house would not be part of our long term plans, so we thought we’d see what happened.  Within less than 2 weeks, we were under contract and on our way.

As part of selling our house, we also sold (or gave away) about 80% of our belongings through Craigslist, family members and finally a wildly successful garage sale.  Then, we signed a nine month lease on an apartment to wait out the winter and make plans.

Fast-forward to today which marks the first post of this blog.  We recently both informed our employers that we would be leaving this spring, and in 17 weeks we will board an airplane to begin a bike trip through Europe.  We will start in Germany and make our way through Belgium, France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, and Romania to the Black Sea.  Although we have both been cycling for years, this trip will be a challenge for us both physically and logistically and certainly in many other ways as well.  This is just the first of what we hope will be lots of fun adventures in the years to come.

What makes someone quit a perfectly good job and live on a bicycle for several months??  Well, I guess it’s the realization that someday we may not be able to.  Someday, we may be too old or too tired.  Someday, life circumstances may conspire against us.  Someday, our butts may become one with our office chairs.  Or, honestly, someday we just may not want to anymore.  Someday, this window of opportunity will be gone forever and we don’t know if that will be tomorrow or many years from now. 

When life isn’t going well, change comes easily, even hastily.  But when life is good, change can seem risky.  “What if I hate it?”  “What if I fail?”  “What if I miss my old life?”  “What if things go wrong?”  So what??  If anything is a sure thing, it’s that all of those things will happen.  No matter what we are doing in life, there are always things we don’t like, there are always failures, there are always decisions we would make differently in hindsight, and there are always, always things that go wrong.  So, maybe it’s not so risky after all.  There’s also certain to be plenty of good to come, plenty of fun to be had, and plenty of new experiences to share.

(LetsGoWander.World) life change quitting https://www.letsgowander.world/blog/2016/1/good-fortunes Sat, 23 Jan 2016 12:49:08 GMT