Tootie and I have been staying at our New Orleans retreat. I had been cycling around New Orleans but wanted a brief change of pace. Hattiesburg MS looked to have a lovely rail-trail just over a hundred miles away. On a random Monday I drove up by car for a day trip with my bicycle in the back. There was heavy traffic leaving New Orleans but once over the Twin-Span Bridge the last eighty miles from Slidell LA to central Hattiesburg on I-59 were a breeze, barreling on I-59 through the piney woods at seventy-five miles an hour.

I had never bicycled in the state of Mississippi. Yes, the word “Mississippi” holds a certain cachet. Mysterious. Maybe even dangerous. There are many novels and Hollywood movies. I had heard of the movie Mississippi Burning; the song by Nina Simone “Mississippi Goddam”. On the other hand my impression this day on the bike path; for better or worse, Mississippi is America.

I was to discover that Hattiesburg (population 46,000) is a relatively new city. It was founded in 1884 as a rail hub and center for the lumber industry, named after a woman named Hattie, its real estate developer’s wife. Now Hattiesburg is a college town, home of the University of Southern Mississippi.

Where to park my car in Hattiesburg? One block off the main street in a nice older neighborhood I found a municipal dog park called Central Bark. It looked the perfect place to leave the Ford for a few hours. I pulled out the bicycle I have been keeping in New Orleans, my Surly Long Haul Trucker.

From Google Maps I knew that the bicycle trail started about a mile away. I cycled through this older but prosperous looking neighborhood of Hattiesburg.

I cycled through a poorer neighborhood before finding a spot where the bike trail crossed the road.

The Longleaf Trace is a forty-four mile long paved trail on a former rail line that runs from Hattiesburg MS northwest to Prentiss MS. I did an up and back of the first eighteen miles, to Sumrall MS and back. My ride is the blue line, the black line is the trail as it continues northwest.

The trail is unusually well maintained. During the first portion it had overpasses and tunnels as it passes through the University of Southern Mississippi campus.

I passed a mid-century modern dormitory on the USM campus.

The trail as it passes over the I-59 freeway.

Further on I saw Hattiesburg suburban sprawl including at least one gated community. The University is already on this west side of town.

The bike trail continued through the woods. It was very quiet out here, peaceful, really.

Even many miles out the trail has benches and picnic tables. I stopped for the peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwich that I had brought. I could enjoy the silence and do some reading, The New Yorker on my Kindle.

Further on I passed what looked like a horse farm

I had chosen the town of Sumrall MS (population 1,400) as the turn around point. I got off the trail and biked around town. I got the feeling that the prosperity of the college town of Hattiesburg has spilled over into Sumrall MS. For a very small town Sumrall had a picture framing shop and a graphic design store plus two restaurants.

There was a barbecue place that was closed on Mondays but a Mexican place that was open. I thought about stopping for a taco but passed. Instead I turned around and biked back to Hattiesburg.

In downtown Hattiesburg I noodled around a little by bicycle. It joins my list of American cities where the tallest building in town was built in the boom of the 1920’s.

I biked back over to Central Bark and loaded the bicycle in the car and drove home to New Orleans. I wanted to be back in time for dinner. I do like Hattiesburg and the Long Leaf Trace. I will be back.

The upcoming weather looked perfect. Why not drive the car six or seven hours to south central Pennsylvania and do a bicycle tour up there? My sister Betsy lives with her family in Princeton NJ and for years I had thought about riding the bicycle paths along old canals that lead to the Princeton area from northeast Pennsylvania. Elizabethtown PA is near Harrisburg PA and has a station on the Amtrak main line. It made for a logical place to start biking and to park the car as I would be able return to Elizabethtown from Princeton by train.

At home in Chapel Hill NC, Tootie had several events planned that week and really wanted to use our almost new Ford Escape. Couldn’t I drive in our other car, the 2004 Honda with 195,000 miles? I thought, what could go wrong?

The Honda had been sitting for about two weeks parked on the street in front of our Chapel Hill condo. I put my folding Bike Friday in the trunk and prepared to leave at 7:00 AM. I turned the key and absolutely nothing happened. Dead battery? I called AAA and they came out within the hour, sold me a new battery and I was on the road driving by 8:15 AM.

Two hours by car north of Chapel Hill and half an hour before Richmond VA is one of my favorite Virginia cities in need of more love: Petersburg VA. I like to visit independent coffee houses which are really easy to find on Google Maps. Petersburg’s Demolition Coffee is within a five minute drive off of I-95. I stopped for an oat milk latte (one pack sugar) and a roll, taken to eat on the road.

the “man” in white sitting out front is a statue

I continued driving north, first through Richmond, then the traffic hell of Northern Virginia and the Maryland DC suburbs. Luckily there were only a few slowdowns. North of DC near Frederick MD my Honda with 195,000 miles, after having driven more than five hours, suddenly cut off completely. The power brakes did not even work. I luckily coasted to a stop along the freeway. After stopping for ten seconds the car immediately restarted. What to do? I had almost two more hours left to drive to Elizabethtown PA. I decided to press on, figuring out that I was already so far from home, what did it matter? The car malfunctioned in this way twice more, but each time immediately restarted.

On the north side of Elizabethtown PA I found a public park, the Old Trolly Line Park. Would anyone care if I parked here for five days?

My Honda and bicycle at the park in Elizahethtown PA

I was at the start of a rail trail that stretched twenty-five miles northeast to the city of Lebanon PA. It was four o’clock in the afternoon. I was stressed from the driving and the uncertainty of the car. I decided I would figure out the car issue later and I just unfolded the bicycle, strapped on my luggage, and started riding. It felt great. There was no traffic. Weee!

This is a map of the bicycle ride I would take over the next five days.

Heading towards Lebanon on that first day the rail trail was delightful.

The bike trail, a former trolley line, passed under the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which I know was built in the late 1930’s. Does this qualify as an Art Deco style overpass?

The trail took me right to downtown Lebanon PA (population 26,000). As is typical in America now, the most modern hotels and motels of Lebanon were all two or three miles from downtown at the freeway interchange. Since I wanted to stay closer in, the best to be said about the 1970’s vintage Days Inn was that it was low cost. The lobby and public areas were dirty and vacant. The hallways were creepy and under construction, with lots of room doors mysteriously sitting propped open. Once I entered my room and closed and locked the door things seemed OK.

Lebanon looks so Pennsylvania, so different from a similar sized town in North Carolina.

COVID has made me realize that eating outdoors is really pleasant, even if one is not as worried about some disease. In downtown Lebanon PA I had an outdoor dinner of grilled salmon with vegetables at the Snitz Creek Brewery.

I wanted some kind of coffee and dessert. Why not a sweet coffee drink? I had noticed the Sydney Roasting Company in a strip mall across the street from my hotel. There was only one patron and one employee there at 7:55 PM but the employee, a cordial young man wearing woman’s clothes and pearls made me a decaf oat milk latte to go, with one pack sugar. I took the drink back to the hotel room to watch TV.

The next morning I made my lunch to eat later in the day, a peanut butter and honey (Carrboro NC honey from my friend Maxine’s backyard!) sandwich. I carried these ingredients this whole trip. I typically use a hotel towel as a food prep platform.

The hotel had given me a brisk “no” when I asked if breakfast was included, or even available. I packed up the bicycle to leave, then rode across the street to Sydney Roasting Company for a freshly grilled egg and cheese on rye, served in a fake newspaper wrapping. I read The New Yorker on my Kindle.

My ride destination this day was to be Reading PA, but circuitously routed through Morgantown PA so I could see Classic Auto Mall, somewhere I had been itching to visit. The towns along the way all seemed picturesque.

The town of Ephrata was having some kind of carnival right downtown. Main Street was closed to cars but not bicycles. As I cycled through at about 11:30 AM people were out on their porches seemingly waiting in anticipation of the carnival’s 12:00 noon opening.

I

In rural areas beyond Ephrata much of the land and housing seemed dominated by those I would call Amish, although I am not certain if that is the exact name of their religion. I saw multiple horse drawn buggies. These people apparently permit themselves to ride bicycles as well. Laundry blowing in the wind hung outside the houses.

The countryside was lovely.

On a country road there was a small elementary school with no cars, a pile of bicycles, and students and teachers in “Amish” dress playing baseball in the schoolyard.

I bicycled onward to Morgantown PA. I did lunch, eating my peanut butter and honey sandwich in the picnic shelter of a public park. Afterwards I cycled a mile or so to Classic Auto Mall, a former shopping mall that has been converted into a giant indoor lot for SEVEN HUNDRED classic cars, almost all pre-1980 and for sale by private owners. I had no intention of buying anything but it was fun to walk around.

Even before I walked inside, cycling around the vast empty shopping mall parking lot I saw two junk-level 1950 Ford convertibles and a 1960-63 Corvair. These must be rejects or parts cars; all the cars inside were nicely fixed up.

There was no entrance fee. Every car was marked with a price. The models and makes and years and price levels were all mixed together.

The inventory was heavy on American 1960’s muscle cars and light on imports. Yes, there were a few British cars; maybe a total of ten Triumphs, MGs, and Jaguars. There were a few German cars, Porches and VWs. A 1972 Datsun 240Z. I saw not one French car, sad for me.

The auto mall is at a PA Turnpike interchange. A gambling casino is across the highway. That appears to be a growth industry. It also looks like a mall. Back on the bicycle it was about seventeen miles through rollings hills to Reading PA.

Reading PA’s population has been declining, it is now 95,000, about the same as it was in the year 1910. It is a city that had built its wealth on railroads and heavy industry.

One of its former train stations is now a brewery. I stopped by for a beer and to have a place to sit and ponder where I was going to stay that night.

There was really only one “decent” downtown hotel in downtown Reading so I booked a room there. It later turned out that there was practically only one “decent” downtown restaurant as well: Judy’s on Cherry, which describes its food as Mediterranean. Judy’s on Cherry is a great place and was packed on a Wednesday night. Sitting at one of its bars, my first course was a ceviche appetizer. It was the best ceviche I remember ever eating. It included well placed chunks of avocado, perfectly ripened, with a garnish of tortilla chips and cilantro.

My second course was multi-mushroom pizza, also delicious. I ate the whole thing.

Walking back three or four blocks to the hotel at 8:00 PM the streets of Reading PA were startlingly vacant.

My plan the next day was to cycle northeast to the next large Pennsylvania city, Allentown. I first cycled through what seemed miles of decaying Reading PA neighborhoods.

nineteenth century row houses that look like Greenwich Village

Further on but still in Reading PA I saw these two pieces of mid-century commercial modernism.

In an off and on light rain I cycled the thirty-five to forty miles from Reading to Allentown.

As I approached Allentown and the rain stopped, I was surprised to find miles and miles of new suburban sprawl housing being built, after seeing so much housing being abandoned in Reading. I presume it is because Allentown is “only” ninety miles to New York City, and even closer to jobs in New Jersey. They say Pennsylvania has lower taxes.

parents waiting for the school bus

Remembering the depressing Billy Joel song about Allentown I had expected more urban squalor but central Allentown, while not hip or prosperous seemed fine. Allentown (population 125,000) has at least one nice hotel downtown, the not too expensive but historic Americus.

The doorman of the Americus Hotel, Allentown PA

lobby, Americus Hotel, Allentown PA

That night I had pizza at a brewpub near the hotel. Sitting next to me at the bar I met a bicycle enthusiast and bicycle businessperson from Hickory NC, of all places. Y’all should buy his jerseys http://www.breitzwear.com

The next two days of cycling were almost entirely on the D & L Trail, comprised of the Lehigh Canal Towpath and the Delaware Canal Trail. I realize now how Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton PA all grew rapidly in the nineteenth century when their heavy industry gained water access to the rest of the world.

There was a canal trail right from downtown Allentown, heading towards the nearby cities of Bethlehem PA and Easton PA. It was a lovely morning.

The trail surface was crushed gravel. In my sixty-something miles on the D&L trails the surface varied considerably; it was sometimes smooth, sometimes not. I do not think full mountain bike tires are required but very narrow road racing bike tires could be problematic. As you will hear, there were unannounced breaks in the trail as well.

Both the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers form near-canyons as they cut through the hilly landscape. Here near Bethlehem PA the canyon included a main-line railroad, disused canal, bike path, and flowing river; all winding next to each other.

After ten miles I got off the trail to go to breakfast (latte and croissant) at The Joint Coffee Company in downtown Bethlehem PA., a friendly spot in the courtyard of an office building.

my breakfast

Bethlehem PA (population 75,000) has several colleges including Lehigh University and seems more prosperous and yuppified than neighboring Allentown where I had spent the night.

downtown Bethlehem PA

I cycled back to the trail which now headed along the Lehigh River the eleven miles towards Easton PA before turning south on the Delaware River trail. Mixed with the lovely trees were all sorts of railroad and industrial infrastructure.

Bike trail on the right, Lehigh River on the left

South of Easton PA, the Delaware River Trail was lovely but occasionally had a very rough surface to bicycle.

The trail was pleasant to bicycle until it suddenly wasn’t; I had to walk the bicycle over this fifty foot section of concrete.

Occasionally the “trail” was reduced to a single track through the grass, although smooth and level.

The Delaware River Trail is in Pennsylvania, but the river forms the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, so the other state is always always only a few hundred yards away.

lovely circa 1905 bridge across the Delaware River

While this trail and river are close to East Coast cities the area feels quite remote. There was virtually nowhere to spend the night halfway down the trail and I felt lucky to have booked three days in advance on Airbnb a room above a bar and restaurant. It seemed so European. Spending the night in a rural area I looked forward to relaxing and not having to bike around in the dark looking for somewhere to eat and drink.

my Airbnb hotel along the Delaware River

The room upstairs was fine. Unfortunately I found out that the “restaurant and bar” just downstairs was closed for a “private party.”

I was disappointed, as there seemed nowhere else to eat. My solution was to bicycle three miles back up the trail for an early dinner at a bar called Bowman’s North, then bicycle back by about 7:00 PM so not as to cycle on that woodsy trail in the dark.

someone else’s beer at Bowman’s North, Riegelsville PA

my first course, their soup du jour, beef stew. Delicious.

This is bar food? American cuisine continues to progress, Salmon and vegetables over rice pilaf.

The next day I started cycling again. My sister Betsy’s house in Princeton NJ was fifty or sixty miles further. For about half the distance I would continue cycling on the Delaware River Trail. There were historic locks along the old canal.

The trail was fine until is wasn’t; on at least two occasions the trail had been washed out and in the middle of nowhere the trail just stopped for a few hundred yards. There had been no warning signs and no clues as to what a traveling bicyclist should do. On one occasion I followed a path that others had cleary taken, climbing down a steep embankment carrying the bicycle, then back up the other side. On another occasion I had to go out to the highway for about half a mile, then cut back onto the trail by cycling through someone’s back yard.

Obviously there is a detour, what I am supposed to do? Detour. I saw others doing the same thing.

After crossing obstacles the trail continued on this lovely day.

another beautiful hundred plus year old bridge across the Delaware River

I was getting closer to the major cities of Philadelphia and New York so it is logical that the historic town New Hope PA along riverfront seemed to be a tourist magnet on this sunny Saturday at noontime. What’s for lunch? All the restaurants looked full but I got a seat at the bar of the Triumph Brewing Company. Beer and fried calamari hit the spot.

New Hope PA

After lunch the bike path continued

About ten miles north of Trenton NJ I left the trail, crossed the Delaware River into New Jersey on I-295 and I headed northeast the ten or fifteen miles toward Princeton NJ.

separate bicycle / pedestrian path on the relatively new I-295 bridge over the Delaware River

I had a nice overnight stay with Betsy, her husband George, and their daughter Lynn. I should have taken more pictures. We had a nice dinner. I saw George and Lynn’s garden.

The next morning Betsy rode with me most of the way to the Amtrak station in downtown Trenton NJ. About half of that ride was on canal trails.

Betsy

Trenton NJ and Princeton NJ are only ten to fifteen miles apart. In the twenty years Betsy has lived in Princeton I have watched it become even more exclusive. People in all walks of life seem to want to pay anything so they can live in Princeton. Meanwhile just twelve miles away at the New Jersey state capital city of Trenton no one seems to want to live there at any price. Much of Trenton looks like a place that used to be prosperous.

Trenton NJ

I caught Amtrak for the two and a half hour ride back to Elizabethtown PA, where my car awaited so I could drive back home to North Carolina.

Amtrak platform, Trenton NJ

POSTCRIPT: THE STORY OF THE CAR

At two thirty in the afternoon I arrived at the small Amtrak station in Elizabethtown PA, put the folding bicycle back together, and cycled the three miles to the public park where I had left my Honda. The car was still there. I put the key in the ignition and turned it. For one split second all the dashboard lights came on, then immediately all went blank. After that there was no power, nothing. This car with 195,000 miles seemed dead.

Even if I could have somehow started the car I did not think it safe to drive this sketchy car in the dark on a Sunday through the insanity of DC freeways. I decided to spend the night in Elizabethtown and work the problem.

The only place to eat in downtown Elizabethtown on a Sunday night was Lucky Ducks Bar & Grill. I had a seat at the bar, watched football, and enjoyed a delicious dinner of their speciality sandwich.

I met a guy at the bar who seemed to be an important guy in this small town, and he recommended Dawgz Customs as the best place to have a car fixed in Elizabethtown. He invited me to tell Dawgz that he had recommended them to me.

Waking up in the hotel room the next morning, in a span of ten minutes I called Dawgz, arranged for them to look at my car and called AAA and arranged for them to tow the car the three miles to Dawgz. Dawgz said they were busy and could not look at the car for at least a few days. In a span of another five minutes I found a low cost one-way rental car from the Harrisburg airport to Raleigh/Durham airport and learned that you could take an Uber to the Harrisburg airport from Elizabethtown for twenty-two dollars.

The Honda got towed to Dawgz and I drove home in the rental car. It was a nice drive.

POST POSTSCRIPT: WHAT I DID WITH THE CAR

Dawgz called me a few days later. They were really nice. They confessed that all that was wrong with the car was that the AAA back in North Carolina had not screwed on the terminals to the new battery tightly enough. The Honda with 195,000 miles was likely still in good shape. Dawgz only charged me fifty-one dollars, to be paid in cash only. I felt like an idiot for not discovering this problem myself. Two weeks after I had initially come home, I got an almost free airplane ticket to PHL with credit card miles, took first the SEPTA commuter train from the airport to Philadelphia 30th Street Station, then Amtrak to Elizabethtown. It was a cold, stormy, rainy day. I was going to walk from the Elizabethtown station to Dawgz but did not have an umbrella. The mile and a half Uber only cost eight dollars.

I drove the Honda home with no problems. I guess it is still a great car. I used to be Tootie’s mother’s car before she died in 2014.

There is a guy, Tom Goode, who like me, is from Virginia Beach. He is a retired teacher and a ZZ Top fan. He has been my friend for sixty-three of our sixty-seven years. We have seen each other only intermittently in recent years but have stayed in touch. Tom has lived in the western part of Germany for over thirty years, near where he taught high school at the American military base Ramstein. I had never been to see him in Germany and wanted to see where he lived. He and his wife wanted to cycle with us for part of any bicycle trip. I booked tickets to fly to Frankfurt in late July 2022 and to stay for two weeks.

There is another guy: Lyman Labry, of Austin, TX. He has cycled with me many times. He agreed to go on this expedition.

Tom helped Lyman and me to discover that the Moselle River valley is a superb bike ride. Lyman and I cycled most of a riverside route that stretches over three hundred kilometers from Koblenz, Germany to Nancy, France and beyond. We were blessed with great weather for biking, almost no rain and low humidity, only on the edge of being too hot. Sadly this is a part of a drought that is withering this region.

I had been hesitant to visit Germany because I knew nothing about speaking German. I had learned reasonably good Spanish and had parlayed that into semi-facility with French, Italian, and Portuguese. In Germany I would have to find people who spoke English.

Flying from different cities, Lyman and I landed Frankfurt Airport about the same time on the morning of Thursday July 21. Both of us had Bike Fridays that fit in a suitcase. We had to store the suitcases somewhere during our trip. I resolved this by booking a hotel near the airport for one night two weeks hence and asking the hotel to store the cases for us. We had all sorts of problems finding the hotel after we took a taxi to a Frankfurt suburb, the near-airport town of Kelsterbach. We put the bicycles together on a sidewalk in front of the Kelsterbach train station.

After a Middle Eastern lunch we commenced cycling in the early afternoon. It felt good to be outside and moving around, despite not really having slept much on an overnight flight. We were starting about fifteen kilometers from downtown Frankfurt but heading west, the opposite direction. There is a delightful bike path along the Main River. It would be an easy twenty-six kilometers to the city of Mainz. This is a map of the first three days of cycling, before Tom drove over and picked us up in his car.

cycling along the Main River

The Germans seemed to spare no expense in building this lovely bike path bridge over a canal.

We continued cycling up to the city of Mainz which sits at the junction of the Main and the Rhine Rivers. We had to segue through various bridges and roads to get downtown.

downtown Mainz

Maybe I should have booked a hotel in advance. Downtown rooms in Mainz seemed scarce. Google Maps referred to something called Erbacher Hof, which turned out to be a hotel owned by the Catholic church. We stopped by and asked if they had rooms. They did, sixty-something Euro each per night for single rooms, including breakfast, a very good deal. (Note: during this trip the Euro and the Dollar were essentially equal.). Some Catholic guy on the wall seemed to watch as Lyman checked in.

The rooms were small and spartan and spotlessly clean, with TV’s and balconies. It was part of a modernist church complex that overlooks other churches. In the morning there was a lot of ringing of bells.

hotel courtyard

view from hotel balcony

I had recently stayed in various American hotels in Connecticut, most that included a free breakfast where everything was prepackaged and, in my mind, generally disgusting. The free breakfast here in Mainz made me ashamed to be an American. Here in Germany everything was inviting, fresh bread, real food. Not pictured: excellent muesli and yogurt, even bacon and eggs.

As I was to discover, Germans are quite into Italian food; olive oil and balsamic vinegar, German brands, Italian names

After breakfast we got on the bikes and started cycling south along the Rhine River. Our day’s destination was to be the city of Worms. There was a paved bike path most of the way.

bike path along the Rhine

Lyman cycling through vineyards

We stopped for lunch at a trailer-like snack stand along the highway. What could be more German than bratwurst mit brochen? It was too much meat for me, we split this and then went to another place across the street for ice cream.

Cycling further on, mid-afternoon we stopped at a beer garden along the bike trail. How German.

the author and beer

Next to the beer garden was a house was flying the Confederate flag, from the American Civil War 165 years ago. Hmmm. What does that have to do with Germany? The internet suggests several possibilities, including the fact that Nazi flags are illegal in Germany.

On pulling out by bicycle something disconnected my rear derailleur cable, possibly from contact with the metal bike rack at the beer garden. I could not figure out the problem on my own and had to pedal the final thirteen kilometers to Worms in the largest gear. We stopped at a small bike shop on the outskirts of Worms but the helpful guy did not have the parts to replace the SRAM brand derailleur cable screw. (Why not Shimano, he asked.) He adjusted it so at least I was riding in a more neutral gear. I would have to fix it later.

We found two low cost hotel rooms in central Worms. There was no air conditioning in these attic-like rooms but they seem to air out when we opened the windows. We established a precedent for this trip where every night each of us got his own room, two low cost separate rooms rather than one nicer room. It was hot outside but only one hotel on this entire trip had air conditioning.

Dinner at a Greek restaurant was delightful. There was moussaka. During these still COVID times on this two week trip we ate essentially every restaurant meal outdoors. The weather was almost universally perfect for this.

Greek restaurant in Worms

We had breakfast the next morning at chain-like restaurant.

breakfast on the streets of Worms, Germany

Lyman’s career was as an architect in historic preservation. He always insisted we look inside churches, including this cathedral at Worms.

Outside the Worms cathedral. I do not know who this guy is.

Our biking destination for the day was the smaller city of Speyer, fifty kilometers further south along the Rhine. My friend Tom Goode had said it was a picturesque town and he would drive over and pick us up there. Cycling down the Rhine, the river spreads into marshlands. Quite a lot of the ride was on bike paths through wooded areas.

Some of the ride was through neighborhoods on public roads. Even then the bicycle route was well marked. The Germans have a fascinatingly efficient means of slowing traffic without the need for speed bumps.

This is a two way street. The car in the center is moving. The silver car on the left and the yellow van on the right are parked, as they are apparently encouraged to be. The arrangement forces cars to drive really, really slowly.

The town of Speyer is on the Rhine twenty something kilometers south and west of the larger cities Mannheim and Heidelberg. It was midday Saturday and the streets were full of people, although everyone wanted to sit in the shade of outdoor umbrellas, since it was about ninety degrees (F) outside.

Germans and their focus on Italy, “eis-cafe” becomes “Gelateria Italiana”

Lyman wanted to see inside the Speyer Cathedral. We could bike right up to it.

Lyman and I then biked the half mile downhill to the Rhine to wait for Tom Goode and his wife Jana to arrive in their car. It was great to see them. They live about a hundred kilometers to the west, in a rural area near the village of Horingen and somewhat near the larger city of Kaiserslautern. We would go visit to their house before starting to cycle with them the next day.

On the drive to their house they stopped at a wine store they knew, in a small town, and found out it was having a Saturday afternoon outdoor five Euro unlimited wine tasting. Tom says the Germans are always having “events.” We all had a good time. In addition to all the wine they eventually ordered two flammkuchen, which I learned is NOT pizza, it is a German dish, a local flatbread with cheese or other toppings.

Jana (left) and Tom. She is originally from Slovakia.

Tom and Jana’s home is an impressive abode; a former water mill surrounded by pastures where they can keep their three horses. They posed as American Gothic in front of the house.

Tom Goode
they thoughtfully put the these over the horse’s heads to keep the flies out of their eyes

Tom built this catwalk so his cats could walk into the kitchen window!

The next morning we had a peaceful breakfast on Tom and Jana’s patio. Afterwards, Tom and Jana drove the four of us and our four bicycles about a hundred kilometers further west to the town of Traben-Trarbach, on the Moselle River. They had cycled in this area before and spoke highly of the route. We parked the cars and prepared to cycle. First we had to go out for ice cream. Germans like a big selection of fancy ice cream concoctions.

We started cycling north (downstream) along the Moselle. We had all made reservations to stay that night in the village of Beilstein, sixty kilometers to the north.

Lyman

three old guys

Jana and Tom

German village just before we arrived at another village Beilstein.

In this part of Germany and nearby France, finding villages that were not burned down in one of the two World Wars is difficult. Tom was instrumental in telling us about Beilstein (population 130), we might have missed it even on a bicycle, a historic enclave wedged between mountains and the Moselle River. The town is now a tourist magnet. I only got decent photos of Beilstein at night.

The tiny town is filled with hotels. We all had dinner together at Tom and Jana’s hotel, our best meal in Germany. We sat outside on the terrace overlooking the Moselle River and drank local rieslings. We shared a ceviche appetizer. I had a seafood entree.

The next morning my hotel had an excellent breakfast but at the breakfast bar I found portraits of the hotel owners creepy.

Tom looking out his hotel window

After breakfast the four of us cycled further north to the town of Cochem. We stopped at a bike shop and Tom helpfully convinced them to look at my bicycle that was stuck in one gear. The shop had creative older mechanics and spliced Shimano parts onto the SRAM derailleur. Problem fixed!

Cochem is the home of the Reichsburg Cochem, a thousand year old castle that was colorfully redone in the late nineteenth century. We dragged our bikes up a steep hill.

Jana and Tom in front of Reichsburg Cochem

Tom and Jana could only be out for one night because they had to take care of their animals back home, and we went with them back toward their cars. We started cycling back south, then took a train for much of the way. At a riverside town we had a nice German lunch of schnitzel. A salad was included as first course.

my schnitzel. How German.

the obligatory side of potatoes

After lunch we cycled further south and arrived back at Tom and Jana’s cars. They loaded their bikes and headed home. It had been great to see them. Lyman and I continued south upriver by bicycle. This map shows our ride with Tom and Jana plus the next two days of cycling the Moselle, showing the route as the Moselle sharply winds through hilly countryside.

Lyman and I continued on a lovely bike path.

along the Moselle

We stayed that night in the picturesque town of Bernkastel-Kues. On arriving into town we immediately stopped and ordered beers at a cafe on the sidewalk. We had to decide our next move, including where to sleep that night.

While pondering what to do next, singing sounds came from one block away but we could not see what the singing was about. I walked over to look. (I love public unison singing.) There was a group people with letters that spell out FREIHEIT which I learned (because of Google on my phone) spells FREEDOM. (there were other words being spelled as well, I missed those!) I took it as some kind of right-wing demonstration but I am not sure. Everyone seemed happy and peaceful. I still kick myself for not asking someone what it was about. I guess I will never know.

Around the corner we found low cost hotel rooms at a place owned by and next to a South Asian restaurant. We wanted to eat there but they had only indoor seating. No place looked to be serving German food. The busiest restaurant was Italian. This being Germany, we were worried that they were about to close, as many restaurants in Germany stop taking orders at 8:00 PM. We finally got a table indoors but next to an open window. We each got a soup (cream of tomato and Minestrone) and then split a pizza. With a bottle of wine and coffees, it was only EUR 49.50 for two and delicious; a meal we enjoyed lingering over. Eating out here is definitely lower cost than the USA, even after having been hustled to buy a bottle of overpriced Italian water.

The next morning I walked around town waiting for Lyman to wake up.

in the window of a store that sells German hunting clothing

That day we headed again up the Moselle River as it cut through the otherwise hilly landscape. There was a bike path that threads through river views and vineyards.

Lunch that day was in the town of Trittenheim. Once again the best looking restaurant in this German town advertised itself as Italian; the Ristorante Pinocchio. We had delicious salads accompanied by a bottle of local (German) riesling wine.

We cycled further on to the much larger town of Trier where we spent the night. While being nowhere near Rome this German town has several impressive structures left by the Roman Empire almost two thousand years ago.

Porta Nigra city gate, built by the Romans about 200 AD, Trier, Germany

Aula Palatina, built about 300 AD

part of Roman baths built in 300-400 AD

Highway bridge still in use, built by the Romans in 170 AD, renovated in the 1700’s with new brickwork

Trier also has an impressive cathedral, the oldest one Germany, parts of which date to 300-400 AD but renovated and rebuilt several times. We walked around inside.

I read online that even though German Catholics are going to church less and less, and very few agree with the Church’s social stances, because Germans keep checking a box on their tax returns, the German Catholic Church gets government funding and is consequently among the wealthiest in the world.

We had decided to keep cycling upriver south on the Moselle, at least as far as Nancy, France, which would be two more days cycling. Starting just south of Trier the river forms the border between Germany and Luxembourg, before crossing into France.

our route along the Moselle from Trier, Germany to Nancy, France

Our destination this day would be the town of Perl, Germany. The nice bike path along the Moselle continued. Part of the way we bicycled on the Luxembourg side of the river.

For at least an hour or two we were in Luxembourg. We had salmon tartare at a somewhat snooty Luxembourg restaurant. Europeans seem to include fries with everything.

We cycled further upriver.

That evening the tiny town of Perl, Germany was the opposite of snooty. Less than a mile from the French border our German hotel was low cost and welcoming.

The only real place to eat that night in Perl was a friendly pizza joint around the corner. We enjoyed talking with a young German couple who were also cycling this route. The guy was a big fan of American Football. He said there was an upcoming NFL game to be played in Munich but he could not get tickets. He said the eighty thousand seats sold out in minutes.

pizza with arugula, Perl, Germany

The next morning after the hotel breakfast we cycled downhill into France. There was really no marker at the border, not even a Welcome To France sign.

Germany had been great but it was even better to be in France, I confess. I could communicate better, although still clumsily, and there was a je ne sais quoi feeling, maybe it was a little more relaxed.

The signs on the riverside bike path were less clear than in Germany, the path surface slightly bumpier.

It was past lunchtime when we started seeing the suburbs of Metz (city population 120,000.) We hungrily went into a suburban “outlet mall” (almost just like those America!) looking for a sandwich shop. The sandwiches had better bread than what you would find in America, of course, and we could eat outside on a picnic table.

French Outlet Mall

Back on the bikes, even closer to central Metz, where the bike trail meandered through an agricultural flood plain, we stumbled upon a fascinating outdoor venue, super low tech (the place barely had a bathroom) but with a nice vibe. We had to stop and drink a beer. Most patrons looked to have arrived by bicycle. There were plastic chairs and umbrellas. The guys who were likely the proprietors were two nattily dressed older men in Lacoste shirts.

More than anywhere we had been on this trip, Metz felt like a real city, a special urban place. I looked on TripAdvisor for restaurants in Metz and called for a reservation that night at somewhere called Au Petit Louis. I tried to talk in French but failed. They passed the phone over to somebody who spoke English. Lyman and I walked almost a mile from our downtown hotel to a leafy mid-town neighborhood and took a table outside on the sidewalk.

The meal started with a freebie, an amuse bouche of fresh tomato compote and bite sized terrine tarts, with a slice of strawberry on each.

We shared an appetizer of terrine, which I have learned is a cross between pate and meat loaf. Our main courses were rib eye steak for Lyman; fish for me. Not pictured: a separate cast iron pan of fried potatoes plus lots of French bread.

Coffee and dessert. Why not? We split this plate of fresh fruit covered with what I think was creme fraiche, maybe just whipped cream. Delicious.

The next morning we had breakfast at a bar on the street of central Metz; their breakfast special; coffee (any kind), croissant, and a large orange juice all for three Euro, delivered with a smile, on real plates to your table on the street. Normally I am not a huge fan of orange juice but that rush of sugar this day seemed to hit the spot.

The Metz cathedral is stunning. It has extensive stained glass windows made in various styles over seven hundred years, including twentieth century stylings from artists like Marc Chagall, with cubist and abstract windows complimenting the older styles.

twentieth century abstract windows

Metz is only thirty or forty miles north of the similar size city of Nancy. We again cycled following the Moselle River and canals that parallel it.

All was not perfect. We were in France not Germany. In a swampy region it was not clear which bicycle route was the best. We followed a fine gravel path along a canal until it degenerated into a rough gravel path, then, at a lock on the canal, a fence and a sign stating (in French) to go no further. What to do? A hiker about our age walked up. He sign-languaged us that everybody just walked around this fence. We waited for him to go first, then pushed our bicycles through a tiny opening in the fence.

breaking through the fence

Once through the fence the path degenerated into a rough narrow trail along the canal, lovely but bumpy.

Persistence paid off, and a few miles later the path grew wider, and then devolved into an actual paved road. The bike path along the Moselle somehow had continued!

At a town along the way we found a boulangerie that carried pre-made chicken sandwiches. We had lunch at a random picnic table along the trail.

The bike ride from Metz to Nancy should have been easy but it was more challenging than expected. It was mid afternoon on the hottest day of our entire trip. The bike “path” along the Moselle that we had taken since Germany for hundreds of kilometers was petering out. Signs for the bike route were no longer clear, the path was stopping and starting. We “needed” an ice cream but could not find even a country store. In the working class town of Custines we came upon a bar. Did they maybe have ice cream bars for sale? I opened the door and the place was filled with twenty or thirty middled aged men drinking beer; there were those semi-legal video gambling machines, just like one finds in out of the way places back in North Carolina. I felt uncomfortable. I smiled and left without saying anything.

Farther on we found a gas station that did have ice cream bars. I struggled to find a piece of shade. The only place to sit was the curb.

We refreshed ourselves enough that we got back on the bicycles and finally made it into the city of Nancy. I texted this photo to back home to my friend Nancy Karukas.

Our hotel in Nancy was in the old part of town, had low cost attic level rooms, and an amazing staircase. I had been thinking about the subject of stairways for years; why do commercial and apartment buildings back in the USA not have inviting staircases like those in Europe? The answer, I think, is that in USA fire codes require two exits for buildings, in most of Europe it is only one. I don’t think Europeans are massively burning up in buildings. Many Americans are overweight but we have to go out of our way to walk up stairs in our buildings. In Nancy I did not even consider the elevator.

The next day we stopped cycling along the Moselle and found another route. We had four days left to cycle on our trip, and we chose to stay in France, We would cycle along the Meurthe River, heading southeast of Nancy to Baccarat, then loop back towards Germany. This is the route of the finals days of our trip from Nancy to Saarbrucken, which sits on the German/French border.

We cycled the next morning through Nancy.

Heading out of town we followed a canal for as long as possible.

For the first time on this trip we cycled much of this day on regular highways, which usually were free of significant traffic and generally quite nice.

Halfway to Baccarat we stopped for lunch in the town of Luneville, which was a resort town in the 1700’s. The Chateau of Luneville, completed about 1720, resembles Versaille. There was no fence; you could bicycle right up to the building and its grounds.

Mostly at my insistence, we had tried to only eat at French restaurants in France. We had a nice French lunch in Luneville. Quiche Lorraine is named after this region.

Later that same day, in another smaller town, I noticed the only place to eat on a Saturday afternoon in rural France looked to be a pizza vending machine.

We cycled another twenty-five kilometers to the factory town of Baccarat, famous for being the home of Baccarat crystal. According the Wikipedia the company is owned by an Asian luxury goods consortium.

Baccarat, France

Baccarat crystal factory

In the window of their gift shop; decanter and six glasses, twenty-eight hundred Euro

Baccarat is a small town with only two real restaurants, a French one attached to our hotel and a nice looking Italian one two doors down.

Our hotel was not fancy but had the pretentious name Hotel de la Renaissance. We chose to eat dinner at its restaurant.

Like about every French restaurant we ate at on this trip, we were glad we made reservations, even if only an hour in advance. As in other places, when we sat down at eight o’clock the restaurant was not full but by nine o’clock every table was taken. French restaurants usually have only one seating per meal. None of the restaurants we ate at on this trip were expensive by American standards. Usually a fancy dinner for two cost about a hundred Euro including wine, dessert, and coffee.

One of us got the French version of prime rib, the other steak au poivre. We sat out back outdoors on their terrace as did just about everybody else.

We packed up to leave the next morning. We had both been noticing an odd steeple rising a few blocks distant.

It turned out to be a modernist Catholic Church built in 1954, to replace one destroyed in the War. On our way out of town Lyman quietly ignored the fact that a service was going on and snuck inside to take pictures.

photo by Lyman Labry

photo by Lyman Labry

It was Sunday. We cycled through country roads with little traffic.

There were almost no towns with hotels on this stretch of highway. That morning online I had reserved two motel-like rooms at a marina for boats traveling the canals, on the periphery of a town called Niderviller. In the late afternoon no one was in the office so we had to wait around.

Our hotel rooms were on the second floor of this building

Within walking distance of the marina was one restaurant, the Auberge du Tannenheim. Nothing else was around and almost everything was closed on Sunday. We had to wait until it opened at 6:30 PM so we could get beers. We were lucky we arrived early as we were told that almost all the outdoor tables had been reserved!

We delayed eating for a while as we wanted to just enjoy our beers. Eventually we did order, both of us got big salads followed by pizza. His was salade nicoise, mine advertised as being a salad of this Lorraine region.

Coffee and dessert? Bien sur! Lyman got a banana split.

We stayed until it had gotten dark. A few others lingered as well.

The next morning we cycled a few kilometers into the nearby larger town of Sarrebourg and got breakfast at a cafe.

Sarrebourg, France (population 12,000)

Most of the day was spent cycling on a paved path that for over sixty kilometers follows the Canal des Houllieres de la Sarre. In this remote part of northeastern France we saw other cyclists only occasionally.

We did often see boats on the canal. Almost all looked like pleasure boats, not commercial traffic.

Both of us had tired of eating the rich food offered at restaurants for every meal. I would be nice to do a picnic lunch. The small town of Lorquin had a small locally owned looking supermarket. Both fresh bread and the “deli” section were at the the checkout counter. An older man seemed peeved to have to slice the “prosciutto” for a couple of non-French speaking customers. There was a stinky looking cheese there as well, appropriately covered with a moldy rind. I asked for a big slice. We carried everything for several miles along the canal until we found this picnic table. Really fresh bread, quality cheese, and salty thin sliced ham made a delicious lunch. We had two apples for dessert.

We stayed that night in the town of Sarreguemines (population 21,000.), which sits on the Saar River and is only a few kilometers south of the German border.

Across the river from downtown we ate outdoors at the one restaurant we could find open on a Monday: Le Casino.

I had lamb shank

Dessert looks like ice cream but it is actually chocolate mousse and whipped cream

The scene at an adjoining table. This phrase is from the Ramones song Blitzkrieg Bop, released forty-six years ago. Despite the fact that they did not sell many records, or rarely played in venues larger than clubs, the Ramones influence lives on. Dee Dee!

The next morning we cycled twenty kilometers north along the Saar River, then over the border to the German city of Saarbrucken.

along the Saar canal between Sarreguemines, France and Saarbrucken, Germany

We had flights back to the USA from Frankfurt Airport the following day. We biked to the Saarbrucken train station and took the Deutsche Bahn two hours east to Mainz. We then bicycled the twenty-five kilometers further east to the Frankfurt airport town of Kelsterbach, where we had stored our bicycle suitcases.

Bicycles are permitted on MOST European trains. Generally, the short distance regional trains freely allow bicycles and the high speed TGV trains make it difficult. Beyond that, it gets complicated and you have to ask or look it up. Our regional train made dozens of stops but otherwise was fine; we wheeled the bicycles right onto the train with us.

After arriving in Mainz we got German ice cream sundaes.

We then cycled along the Main River the twenty six kilometers back to Kelsterbach.

at a German stoplight, as we got off the river trail to go into the town of Kelsterbach.

We retrieved our suitcases and folded the Bike Fridays into them, having to unscrew all the attachments. The next morning both of us took the subway-type train five minutes and one stop to the Frankfurt Airport. The train was fine, but the airport was a shit-show of hours long lines but we both made our flights. I had managed to stay COVID free this whole trip but I am convinced the COVID I woke up with back home two days later was acquired in those airport lines. Two weeks later I am still getting over the vestiges of it. Still, no regrets. We had a great trip.

There’s a new airline called Avelo with hubs in Burbank CA and New Haven CT. They now fly nonstop from Raleigh/Durham to New Haven. It would be an easy way start bicycling in the cooler weather and interesting scenery of New England, a region I have always found exotic. I had a general idea to bicycle north along the Connecticut River up into Massachusetts, before cycling back towards my brother Alex’s apartment in Brooklyn NY. Flying with the folding Bike Friday on the airplane, for this trip I eschewed my usual suitcase and used a cardboard box that I could throw away after landing. I planned to return home on Amtrak, on which the folding bike needs no packing. I stood in line at RDU on a Sunday morning.

the bicycle is in this box

The flight was painless and the weather clear, taking off from Raleigh/Durham airport on time at 8:30 AM and arriving New Haven just before 10:00 AM. A flight attendant made it obvious it was a new airline as he had not even memorized the usual spiel about how to fasten your seat belt and verbally stumbled as he read from an I-Pad. The 737 aircraft surely had been bought used as it looked really worn inside.

The New Haven airport terminal is tiny, almost as small as the Carrboro NC train station. After landing you walk from the plane across the tarmac.

I retrieved my “luggage”, i.e. bicycle-in-a-box and picked a spot outside in front of the terminal where I could put the bicycle together. Other passengers were milling around complaining that there were no taxis. It took me about half a hour to get ready.

Downtown New Haven is about six miles north of the airport. Bicycling from the airport was safe and pleasant as a normal suburban neighborhood comes practically up to the runway.

leaving the New Haven airport

Compared to highways in North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina, arterial roads up north, including Connecticut, MOST of the time have wide shoulders. Maybe they need room for the plowed snow. It makes bicycling seem safer.

a main road that headed towards central New Haven, with a wide shoulder

Six days later, looking back on my trip through central Connecticut and western Massachusetts, and only as an amateur sociologist, the Connecticut River Valley seems like a microcosm of the social divisions in America, but on steroids, maybe because these divisions are magnified by the tight geography. I started in New Haven. Yale University is dripping in wealth and prestige and world class research but unlike most college towns I have visited, the city of New Haven that surrounds Yale on all sides looks poor. On my bike trips college towns in America almost always seem prosperous, like Northampton MA was on this trip. When one crosses the political line into a city like New Haven or Hartford the population suddenly looks poor and mostly Hispanic and Black, as if tripping a switch. Outside of the principal cities people in Connecticut look almost all White. There are vast areas of not-all-that-prosperous middle class to working class strip mall suburbia in central Connecticut and western Massachusetts but these areas seem like another world from the older central cities of New Haven, Hartford, and Danbury. On my final day I cycled through still another vibe; miles and miles of wealthy country-clubbish suburbia that dominates the “rural” areas of Connecticut that are within commuting distance of New York City.

This is the bicycling route I took over these six days.

This first day I noodled through poor neighborhoods of the New Haven area with empty storefronts, until arriving at central central New Haven, near Yale, where there are suddenly upscale restaurants. I stopped for lunch. For someone coming from North Carolina, where traditionally there are fewer Italian-Americans, it was fun to sample the good Italian restaurants that are all over Connecticut. I ate Italian-American all week.

After lunch I cycled towards the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, a paved bike and hiking trail which runs eighty-one miles north along the Connecticut River; all the way to near Northampton MA except for a few incomplete gaps where you have to bicycle on highways. The trail started just the other side of the Yale campus.

Yale has a famous architecture school. I am not sure what this building is for, but I find it attractive.

Much of the bike path is on the former New Haven – Northampton Railroad, the Canal Line

I bicycled twenty something miles northward on the rail trail before looking to take a break. I stopped at a brewery along the trail in suburban Plantsville CT. I am a credit-card bicycle tourist, I do not camp. I can only stay where there are motels or Airbnbs. There was a nice strip of restaurants in downtown Southington CT but the motels were all two miles away out next to the freeway. This repeats a pattern I find all over America. It would be so much nicer to stay in a downtown and be able to walk to restaurants.

Still being COVID paranoid, I wanted to sit outside and had to wait for an outdoor table at the crowded Anthony Jack’s Wood Fired Grill in downtown Southington. Their special of barbecue salmon was quite good, so good that I came back to this restaurant four days later on my return. On both occasions it seemed like there were a lot of policemen and firefighters eating here.

After dinner I bicycled to the Holiday Inn Express out on the big highway. The room was fine. The next morning the free breakfast was NOT fine. Hotel breakfasts have become more and more pre-fab. I cannot believe I ate this stuff, I swore this was the last time I would eat a “sausage” and “ready made omelette” on a plastic plate with a plastic fork. I had Raisin Bran and milk for breakfast dessert, at least that is good for you, I think.

Disgusted by food and even before I checked out of the motel, I biked across the highway in the suburban landscape to the Price Chopper supermarket and bought a loaf of Dave’s whole grain bread and jars of non-homogenized peanut butter and strawberry jam. I could now make sandwiches whenever necessary. It took me six days but I ate the whole loaf, lugging it all in a plastic bag strapped to the back my the bicycle.

The cycling this day northward through rural Connecticut and into Massachusetts was lovely. Most but not all was on the Canal Heritage Trail.

rural highway with essentially no traffic

bike trail through the woods

Close to noontime it felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. The trail briefly ended and I cycled along suburban roads. In an obviously new development I stumbled onto a Whole Foods Market. I realized this was the exurbs of Hartford. In a state where most urbanity looks historic or at least old, here among these woody suburban office parks (I assume mostly for the insurance industry) the roads and the buildings both look brand new. Why not get a coffee from Whole Foods? I sat outside with an oat milk latte, one pack sugar, watching fancy SUVs circle through the parking lot.

After coffee I found my way back on the trail, where I soon crossed into Massachusetts. After many miles and late and in the afternoon I found my way into a much different form of urbanism, the faded manufacturing town of Westfield MA (population 41,000). Signs said its biggest claim to fame is being the original home of Columbia brand bicycles, manufactured here starting in about 1910 but of course no longer.

In downtown Westfield, among a few empty storefronts there was the almost hip feeling Circuit Coffee. I sat with my coffee for a spell, pondering the world and the issues of western Massachusetts.

I was tired and wanted to stay somewhere, why not here? There might be even a decent restaurant, but the only hotel was two miles away, up a steep hill, at the Mass Turnpike interchange. Airbnb likewise showed nothing in-town. My only solution was to bicycle up that steep hill to the otherwise nice Hampton Inn Westfield. I passed a liquor store on the way and impulsively stopped to buy a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Many two-go restaurants do not have liquor licenses.

At the hotel, noticing a trend I have seen all over America, many of those staying in motels are blue collar workers, possibly some kind of road or pipe repair crews, still in their work outfits.

waiting in line at the Hampton Inn Westfield

The region of western Massachusetts and northern Connecticut is the original center of gun manufacturing in America. Smith & Wesson and Colt come from this area. Two blocks from my hotel and next to the Turnpike, a factory for Savage Arms had a jammed parking lot. The sign said Help Wanted.

What to do for dinner? There was no real restaurant within walking or even short bicycling distance of the Hampton Inn. One mile away on a dicey bike ride on a highway was Alessio’s Pizza & Pasta. I ordered the kind of sandwich that chains like Subway and Jersey Mike’s have tried to imitate. Alessio’s tasted like the real deal. I bicycled with it back to the motel room and enjoyed it with some of my to-go bottle of wine.

My idea for the next day was to bicycle a loop heading north through the Massachusetts college towns of Holyoke, Hadley, Northampton, and Amherst before turning back south and staying in downtown Springfield MA.

My first ten miles were on a highway but it at least had a wide shoulder.

I cycled in quick succession through the western Massachusetts towns of Southampton, Easthampton, Northampton, Hadley, and then Amherst. Most of the ride was on the final portion of the Canal Heritage Trail, although the trail has various local names.

This portion is called the Manhan Rail Trail

Wikipedia describes Northampton MA as “an academic, artistic, musical, and countercultural hub”. Countercultural hub? Sure, why not. I cycled through town and took pictures but really did not stop.

downtown Northampton MA

It is only eight miles by a lovely bike path from Northampton MA to Amherst MA. The trail crosses the Connecticut River on a former rail bridge.

Amherst is home of the University of Massachusetts. In downtown Amherst I got an oat mile latte, one pack sugar, plus a pastry whose details I do not remember other than it being delicious. Cycling again, I doubled back to Northampton but then turned south along the Connecticut River heading towards Springfield MA. On a bleak highway that in most parts is surrounded by trash and beat up buildings I picked the nicest spot available to sit on a guard rail and eat my peanut butter sandwich.

I had to pass through Holyoke MA. I assumed it was another tony college town but I could not have been more wrong. The famous women’s college Mount Holyoke is on, well, a mountain; five miles and across the river from the city of Holyoke.

Holyoke (population 38,000; about the same population as the year 1890) is a faded factory town seemingly full of poor people. I looks like another world from Northampton MA only eleven miles away. I have learned that in about 1890 Holyoke was the largest producer of paper stationary in the world. Huge brick factory buildings stretch along the canal that empties into the Connecticut River. Some of these brick mill buildings are repurposed, some not.

Eight miles further south along the river is Springfield MA (population 156,000) which looks a little more put-together than Holyoke, but Springfield still looks faded. I stayed in the Holiday Inn Express downtown.

Springfield’s most recent effort to re-find itself is a casino downtown, housed in a renovated older building. Good luck on that. At least it’s downtown.

Later on I sought out dinner. My gut reaction would not to do German food but Springfield’s longtime most famous restaurant is the German restaurant Student Prince Cafe (since 1935!). I had a nice time sitting at the bar. Unlike many big old-school places, Student Prince seemed really well run and the food was fine, the bar staff friendly and professional. Cross cultural note: since 2014 until very recently this German restaurant has been run by a local Asian-American restauranteur named “Andy” Sua Sun Yee, who had just died of cancer. I know this because there were notes of his passing at the entrance. The interior is dark but full of fascinating old stuff.

The next days’s mission was to cycle to Hartford CT, which sits thirty miles south on the same Connecticut River. That morning I had booked a promising sounding Airbnb in Hartford. I was able to cycle much of the way on bike trails along the Connecticut River, but these bike paths are disconnected from each other. At least half of the way I cycled on normal roads.

Breakfast in Springfield MA was the opposite of a machine-made hotel breakfast because I went to a coffee house a few doors down from the hotel, in the glassed-in ground floor of an office building. The ham and egg on bagel was delicious and custom made from a kitchen surrounded by Italian-American kitsch. The one indoor table was full of six older Italian-American looking guys. I ate outside.

Leaving the hotel by bicycle I headed downriver. Springfield has a lovely riverfront bike path to nowhere that dead ends. You have to turn around and come back to where you started! I got back on a regular street that crossed over the Connecticut River, and looked back at Springfield MA.

downtown Springfield MA

The “only” thirty miles to Hartford were by bicycle complicated ones. For a while there was a bike path along a riverfront road on the west bank. There were few signs and one had to construct one’s own bicycle route.

For a portion there was a lovely but bumpy bike path along the river.

Coming into Hartford from the north on the highway CT-159 that parallels the river it seemed I would have to bicycle through most of Hartford to get to my Airbnb on the southwestern side of town. I knew that Hartford has significant poor neighborhoods and urban problems. I had no way of knowing the proper route to avoid poorer “dangerous” neighborhoods. I pressed on, knowing that the risk of getting run over by a car was a much greater risk than getting mugged, and seemingly-safer suburban areas are usually more dangerous to bicycle than a grid of city streets. As the neighborhoods began to look poorer I could start to see the high-rises of downtown Hartford in the distance.

I was not staying downtown, which I still think was the correct decision, even though downtown Hartford has a few luxury hotels. I instead would be staying in residential neighborhood in western Hartford, an area where there were restaurants within walking distance. I first had to cross a huge section of Hartford. I took very few photos because I was bicycling as fast as possible!

It was a hot summer day and in a region where many buildings do not have air conditioning, people were out on the streets. In a poor neighborhood past downtown a Jeep Grand Cherokee came racing down a narrow urban street at an insane speed. It was not within a block of me so I was in no danger of being run over, but the car was driven in a manner that suggested he was being chased by either the police or fellow criminals. It was disconcerting, to say the least.

Breweries and local coffee houses are always good destinations when you do not know a city. It was a relief when I bicycled across a major set of railroad tracks and arrived at New Park Brewing, which I now know is at the beginning of the more prosperous neighborhoods of west Hartford. I stopped for a beer. They had outdoor seating.

While I sat by myself and read my book on the Kindle a group of women were about the only other people on the patio.

My Airbnb was less than a mile away. This part of western Hartford has block after block of what look like tract mansions from the year 1900.

This is not the first time with an Airbnb that I stayed in a part of someone’s house, never saw that person, but was given full access to his or her’s house. The guy had texted me a code to open the front door. I walked through his lovely but busily decorated home (there is a suit of armor on the stairway landing) to get the the third floor apartment. “Make yourself at home!”

my Airbnb house

view the rainy next morning from that third floor window

My stay in Hartford worked out well. The apartment was nice, much better and lower cost than a hotel room. There were multiple rooms and everything was studiously clean. The TV and A/C worked. The neighborhood was comforting and I could walk to a decent restaurant. At the Tisane Euro-Asian Cafe I studied the crowded bar scene but COVID paranoidly chose to sit outside.

Thai noodles with salmon

My plan for the next day was to ride back south to New Haven CT, forty miles to the south. My first few miles from Hartford were on the bike path that parallels the CT Fastrak Busway, an eleven mile long highway built exclusively for buses between Hartford and New Britain CT. There used to be proposals to build this kind of transit back home between Chapel Hill NC and Durham NC.

bike path is on the right

transit station on the busway

Much of the city of New Britain CT looked poor and decaying.

On the far side of New Britain CT I discovered a lovely route over a small mountain towards the next town Southington CT. The route necessitated biking one or two miles up a very steep hill and I found myself alongside the local water source. There was almost no car traffic; it made the climb worthwhile.

Coming down the mountain I got back on the trail I had been on three days earlier, the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail which I took the twenty something miles back south to New Haven. On the way I cycled a quarter mile off the trail for ice cream at a place called Wentworth’s.

I planned to stay that night in New Haven. The few hotels available in downtown New Haven this night were over three hundred dollars. I looked elsewhere. I found an Airbnb in the eastern fringe of New Haven, a bedroom in a split-level suburban house. It had good Airbnb reviews but was remote from any restaurants.

Before going to the neighborhood with the Airbnb I bought a to-go Italian style sandwich at a place on the highway called Michaelangelo Pizza & Subs. The Airbnb person texted me a code to get into their home, even though they were not there, giving me full access to their house. The home looked spotless inside. After I had been there a while I met one of the two people living there, a slim thirty-something woman with long blond hair wearing a YALE PEDIATRICS t-shirt. She said she and her boyfriend were both Yale MD interns and worked long hours. The two doctors rented out one of their main floor bedrooms to Airbnb. The woman told me to “make myself at home.” She was welcoming but soon went into her room and closed the door. In my whole stay there I never physically saw anyone again.

I sat on their deck overlooking the backyard and ate my delicious Italian-style sandwich; once again so much better than Subway. I read my Kindle. In a strange way it way quite peaceful.

I had two days left on my trip. I decided to cycle northwest towards Danbury CT, a part of the state I had never visited. I first cycled two or three miles through eastern New Haven to a coffee house called Manjares.

I got an oat mile latte, one pack sugar, plus a croissant. The croissant was not fresh but I enjoyed the outdoor seating.

Across the patio three old guys looked and talked like what I imagine Yale professors would be like.

The forty mile ride towards Danbury was lovely, through the kind of scenery and cooler summer weather which New England is famous for.

no shoulder but very little traffic

New England stone wall

Never pass up a rural ice cream spot.

I came upon Sandy Hook just before the city of Danbury CT.

It is a place that has had its name stained by gun violence, really a tiny town that has grown into prosperous suburbia in past decades.

downtown Sandy Hook CT

Cycling into Danbury CT (population 86,000) I saw little else to photography other than the Sycamore Drive-In. Danbury is another less-prosperous Connecticut city surrounded by more prosperous suburbs. Danbury used to be called “Hat City” for the number of hat factories that used to be here, including Stetson, but no more. Men’s hats died as a business about the time of JFK. I did read that the hat factories left significant environmental damage by pouring cancer causing chemicals on the ground and into waterways.

Danbury CT

Danbury is not prosperous enough to have any downtown hotels but a group of newer motels are all clustered five miles from downtown, overlooking “scenic” I-84. This repeats the mantra from my brother Alex Marshall’s year 2000 book How Cities Work. Development is always going to cluster around transportation. It was a downer fighting traffic while riding my bicycle the last few miles.

It was uphill to Hotel Zero Degrees beside the freeway. The hotel was expensive but had a fancy restaurant attached so I would not have to go out again that night. Depressingly a group of tour buses pulled up the same time as me.

There is a Yankee gaudiness that I usually associate with Long Island, but in southwestern Connecticut it was here at the Hotel Zero Degrees in spades on this Friday night, but all in fun. The room was clean and comfortable, good to nestle in after a long day cycling. There was at least one wedding going on at the hotel. The bar and Italian restaurant were partly left open to the outdoor air, making me a much smaller COVID worrier. I rarely get cocktails but when I do I almost always order a gimlet; gin and lime juice. Delicious.

Having clams and linguine in an Italian restaurant up North in Connecticut, even here in a Interstate highway hotel, it was bound to be good.

The free breakfast the next morning at the expensive hotel was lame. I made my own peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead.

I was near the end of my trip. I had decided that instead of trying to bicycle the final stretch into New York City I would cycle this morning twenty-something miles south to the Norwalk CT station and take the Metro North commuter train into Manhattan. Even on a Saturday there are trains almost every hour, costing only about fifteen dollars.

From my interstate highway hotel I cycled south into wealthy rural areas, the start of the southwestern Connecticut commuter region. I wanted to arrive Norwalk in time for the 1:00 PM train.

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Not all houses out here are huge. Connecticut seems to have more 1950’s split levels per capita than anywhere, where the front door enters between first and second floors. I saw these constantly, all over the state.

Norwalk CT, as a city on the coast, suddenly seemed economically diverse.

I was only a mile from the train station and I still had an hour before the 1:00 PM train. Time for lunch, more Italian food! I ate almost this whole pizza.

I biked over to the train station. The bike went on the train with me, no need to fold it.

The trip to Grand Central Terminal took and hour and fifteen minutes. This magnificent train station that opened in 1913 services the Metro North commuter trains. Amtrak trains go from Penn Station across town.

my Bike Friday in Grand Central

Alex lives with his family in Park Slope, Brooklyn, although this day he was there alone. From Grand Central his apartment is an eight mile bike ride, mostly down Manhattan then across the Manhattan Bridge or Brooklyn Bridge.

Waiting at the 14th St stoplight when cycling down 2nd Avenue bike path in Manhattan

The ride to Alex’s place is not that tough if you know where you are going, but I had to stop constantly and look at the map on my phone, especially within Brooklyn. This afternoon the entire ride took about an hour and a half.

We went out to eat that night near his apartment at, what else, an Italian restaurant called Piccoli Trattoria. It was delicious.

My Amtrak train to North Carolina the next morning was scheduled for 7:20 AM from Penn Station. I left his apartment by bicycle at 5:30 AM.

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Brooklyn in the gathering light.

Having taken the time to plan my route, the bike ride to Manhattan was painless in the mostly traffic free early Sunday morning. It took less than an hour.

There is the new Moynihan Train Hall that opened in 2021 which I had not seen before. It is part of the Penn Station complex, to take the place of the original Penn Station that was torn down in 1962. I am always one to applaud new public buildings. This is actually a renovation of a former post office.

Moynihan Train Hall, Penn Station in New York

Unlike some other times in New York, Amtrak let me wheel the bicycle all the way up to the train door before folding it, which made traveling with a folding bicycle on Amtrak a true breeze, as was the train ride, although it was full pretty much the whole way. I did a lot of reading and I find Amtrak relaxing.