Would rural Quebec would be something like rural parts of the USA, but everyone speaks French?    With my friend Lyman and I set out to discover Quebec in eight days of cycling.

In planning this trip I discovered a basic fact:   Quebec has been built as a collection of settlements along the St. Lawrence River.    Quebec City stands at the point where the river narrows at a mountain range, offering an early seventeenth century military planner a perfect place for defending the river.   Two hundred miles further upstream, Montreal was built at the fall line, the limit, at least four hundred years ago, where ocean going vessels could go.   This map shows the bicycle ride we ended up doing.   Quebec City was about halfway.   After the bike ride we returned from Rimouski to Montreal in a rental car.  


Air fares to Canada tend to be expensive, and driving with the bicycle saves advance planning and causes less global warming.   With my Bike Friday in the back I drove our 2005 Toyota Prius up from North Carolina.   My friend Lyman had flown in from Austin TX and I picked him and his Bike Friday up at Baltimore’s BWI airport.  We then overnighted with my sister Betsy and her husband George in Princeton NJ.    She was not going to bicycle on this trip but she rode with Lyman and me in the car six hours up to Montreal so she could use my car to noodle around Quebec on her own.     We stopped for a beer at a brewery in Plattsburgh NY, just south of the Canadian border.


The three of us had a fine Moroccan dinner that night in Montreal.     The next morning Lyman and I fitted up our bicycles and headed out.  By Quebec standards it was going to be a hot day, high about ninety.    This turned out to be the hottest day of the trip.


Betsy was going to fly back home three days hence and leave the Prius for us at a lot near the Montreal airport.  This first day Lyman and I bicycled from the downtown hotel northwest through Montreal streets, heading downriver along the  north shore of the St. Lawrence.   It is about 200 miles from Montreal to Quebec City, and we hoped to make it in four days.

Quebec urban apartments have a consistent theme, steep outdoor staircases to second floor apartments.   In America the stairs are normally inside, not that I had ever thought about it all that much.   It is one of those things in a foreign country that remind you:  not everybody does everything just like Americans.





Quebec has a province-wide bicycle route system called La Route Verte (The Green Route)  I have not seen a state in the USA that has anything quite so well arranged for long distance bicycling.   (New York State and the Erie Canal route comes close.) Its design seems typically Canadian, not expensive but well thought out.   It spoke of a government that is trying to solve a problem and create something, rather than be at war with itself.   On La Route Verte you just have to follow the signs.


For the first four days we bicycled La Route Verte no. 5, which follows the north shore of the St. Lawrence river.  In urban areas it leads a bicyclist through webs of residential streets, but connecting those when necessary with mostly paved bike paths.


In rural areas La Route Verte is mostly just signage showing a bicyclist the safest routes, sometimes on rural back roads.


and much of the time on lightly used highways, virtually always with a wide shoulder.


On occasion Route Verte uses a design I do not approve of, a two way bike path along one side of a conventional street.  (I do not think it is safe going through intersections bicycling the wrong way against traffic.)

On this first day out we biked through the northeastern side of Montreal which is clearly the poorer industrial side of town.   Later on, a bike path followed along the St. Lawrence River with its ocean going vessels.

We rode a long way that day (59 miles), especially considering that the first part included constant stopping and starting through neighborhoods, and that it was about ninety degrees outside, and both of us are in our mid sixties.

There are not a lot of motels on this stretch of the north side of the river.   We exhaustedly pulled into this place at about five in the afternoon.

It is a Friday night in July, the height of the summer season.   Complet!    No rooms!   What do we do now?

The young woman at front desk of Villa D’Autray Motel spoke virtually no English and could not have been nicer.   While she turned us down for a room she invited the two of us to come swim in their pool while we sorted out our situation.

Lyman and I took the desk clerk up on her offer and we hung out for a while in the pool, in our bicycle shorts.

A couple of guys drinking beer in the pool were playing Appalachian / Irish sounding music, with French words, on their boombox.  I had vaguely heard of that Celtic music from Brittany sounded similar to American Appalachian and Irish music.   There are no words in this particular recording but when there were words, they were totally in French.

Still wet from the pool we got back on the bicycles.   I located a Days Inn three miles up the road in Berthierville, the only other hotel in the area, and I booked it on my phone.    The Villa D’Auhtray Motel we had not been able to say in was on a lovely two lane highway along the St. Lawrence River.  On the other hand, the Days Inn de Berthierville is next to the freeway where most of that town’s commercial buildings had transplanted themselves, just like in America.

Near the Days Inn there were no restaurant restaurants, just a collection of fast food places.   We got a to-go bottle of wine and ate outside at a chicken place, not sure if that was legal or not.   The dimly lit “lounge” of the Days Inn had gambling machines, just like those one sees in “Internet cafes” in obscure parts of North Carolina; we stayed clear.   The free breakfast the next morning was in the same lounge.

The Musee Gilles Villeneuve was almost next door to the Days Inn.   We stopped by when it opened at 9:30 AM.   We were the only visitors.


Yes, I had vaguely heard of Gilles Villeneuve.   He really made it to the big time.  Like so many Formula One drivers, he had died young in a fiery crash, him at age thirty-two in 1982.    He clearly was the young man from Berthierville who had made good.   Were the two people working the counter were Gilles’ relatives?


Before he got to Formula One Gilles had started racing snowmobiles, which up until this moment I had never known such racing existed.  How Canadian!  Apparently Gilles drove whatever he drove insanely and recklessly fast, until the danger ultimately caught up with him.


The museum had a slot car track, Lyman and I enjoyed racing each other.

photo by Lyman Labry

Back on the road, we headed northeast downriver, north side, on La Route Verte no. 5, on roads small and large.   We were dodging rain showers.



photo by Lyman Labry


Some of the towns were picturesque.


In this stretch the St. Lawrence River widens into Lac St. Pierre; it looks like an ocean.   We had seafood stew at Sea Shack.

We had had to stop several times to keep from getting wet, including about an hour on the porch of a semi-abandoned farmhouse.   The weather was finally clearing as we pulled into Trois-Rivieres, population 140,000, the largest city between Montreal and Quebec City.

Wikipedia describes Trois-Rivieres as a factory town struggling with closed factories.    This entire region seems to have been very much into paper and newsprint.   Arriving downtown Trois-Rivieres we looked around for a bar.  The Billie Jean sure seemed to be the place to be.  Everyone was drinking pitchers of Bud Light.   Les Quebecois clearly like to get outside the few days of the year that the weather is nice.   The waitress spoke no English but understood enough to bring us two local IPAs,  We looked for a hotel on our phones.



We found a nice hotel a few blocks away and biked over there along the riverfront.


Later on we went out to dinner to Le Buck just a few blocks in the other direction, in the historic part of town.  Almost all these towns along the St. Lawrence were settled by the French in the 1600’s.

It was a different vibe from the bar scene at Billie Jean.  Le Buck is a fancy restaurant with outdoor seating where both of us got steak frites, no appetizer, and a shared bottle of the lowest cost red wine.   It may have been the best meal of the entire trip.





Quebecois food is not French any more than American food is British.    In the major cities of Quebec there are certainly fancy restaurants that mimic fancy French styles.   Elsewhere the Quebecois eat in their versions of chain restaurants and diners.   In general, average Quebecois restaurant food is better than average American restaurant food.  The most famous Quebecois dish is poutine, a decidedly blue collar pile of French fries on a paper plate covered in gravy and cheese collards, something to cheaply warm the bones in typically freezing weather.

The next morning we biked through the streets of Trois-Rivieres before leaving town north on the highway along the river.   I suspect almost no one has air conditioning, people were hanging outside.


It was still two days cycling to reach Quebec City.     La Route Verte routed us mostly on the Quebec highway 138 (already paralleled by a freeway) but when possible on the even older road that passed directly through small towns.


Les Quebecois are heavily into motorcycles, RV’s, SUV’s, and muscle cars.    We had pizza for lunch at a restaurant advertising specifically for motorcyclists but it had a much fru-fruier vibe than the average biker-friendly place in America.  It was all very nice.

We stayed that night at an Airbnb in the small town of Portneuf.   This personable woman rents out bedrooms in her suburban house, her enormous but friendly dog lying all about the place.   The dog slept outside our room at night, as if to guard it.  Lyman and I were able to walk to a small restaurant.


The next day we cycled again on La Route Verte 5, which is mostly Quebec route 138 along the north shore of the St. Lawrence.

The terrain had gotten challenging, steep hills for the first time.   Lyman here is wearing his hooded Patagonia sun protection bicycle jersey.  The temperature was in the upper seventies with a really bright sun.

The Quebec City suburbs on the south side along the north shore of the river are clearly the ta-ta side of town.  We bicycled past miles of tract mansions, just like in America, except the occupants speak French!


Coming into Quebec City a serious bluff blocks the riverfront.  To stay on the bicycle route we had to push the bicycles up these stairs, which connects to a bike trail.

Bicycling further into the city it still looked like the average American neighborhood, even though it was not.  (We are in French speaking Quebec, right?)   We tried to keep up with this young woman as we all followed La Route Verte signs.

After biking in rural Quebec for four days, arriving Old Quebec is somewhat shellshocking.    Other than Campeche, Mexico, Quebec City is the only walled city in North America.


To quote Lyman, Old Town Quebec City is like the French Quarter in New Orleans, except here they actually speak French!



We had booked an Airbnb in but had to wait for the “owner” to show up and let us in.   It was an apartment in Old Town.   We got a coffee next door.   The neighborhood was full of summertime tourists, although it seemed like relatively few were Americans.   We watched people go by our open cafe window.

The Airbnb representative finally showed up and let us in.   She was colorful.

photo by Lyman Labry


The view from the back deck of the Airbnb apartment was in many ways as interesting as the front.

The view out the front window.


On this Tuesday night in July restaurants were busy!    My friend Joe back in North Carolina had recommended we eat at Le Lapin Sauté, but tables were unavailable.  On the phone a place called La Buvette did not have a table but could seat us at the bar at 8:30 PM.   It was hip and expensive and delicious and pretentious but somehow not totally memorable.   It might have been because I felt we did not get enough to eat!   (Lyman had gotten the “mozzarella foam” appetizer!)




Lyman (rightfully) was interested in the history of the city.  The French had not only walled the city, they had built a fort (the Citadelle) atop the hill that the city sits on, where the river narrows.   It seems like a perfect place to defend one’s territory.   In 1759 the English somehow lured the French out of their position and defeated them on the Plains of Abraham, a flat low spot just below the town.  That was the end of the French rule over Quebec.  The next morning Lyman and I walked up to the Citadelle.

Looking down the skyline is dominated, not by the Citadelle but by the huge hotel Chateau Frontenac built in 1890 by the Canadian Pacific Railway.


About lunchtime we checked out of our Airbnb and rode our bicycles to the ferry landing at the riverfront of Old Town.    We got a surprisingly good pasta lunch among the tourists and souvenir shops.



We were about halfway through our bicycle trip.    The next four days would again be along the St. Lawrence, but this time on the south shore.  North of Quebec City the north shore becomes mountainous while the south shore is more of a flood plain, sometimes with lovely views of the mountains on the other side of the river.  While there is a bridge near Quebec City we chose to cross by ferry, which leaves from Old Town.   We could join the crowd of people wheeling their bicycles right onto the boat.  The crossing took about fifteen minutes.




Starting here for the next four days we bicycled about 200 miles north of Quebec City along the south bank of the St. Lawrence River.   This region is now my favorite part of Quebec to bicycle.  Leaving the Quebec City suburbs there was a bicycle path along the river for several miles.

Eventually we bicycled north on Quebec route 132, also labeled as La Route Verte no.1.


La Route Verte signs sometimes diverted to the old road through towns.  The town of St. Jean de Bellechasse looked cutesy and properous.   We stopped for ice cream.


Maybe it was the weather but this whole stretch of road gave off a wonderful vibe, as La Route Verte meandered along the riverfront on a thin road with almost no traffic.   A few miles further there was an outdoor barbecue stand fronting the river, the mountains lining up on the other side.   We skipped the barbecue but got beers.    Eventually we started chatting with a nice couple also there enjoying the afternoon even though we barely understood each other’s languages!   They are from Quebec City, they drive out here sometimes just to enjoy the view.



Just a mile or two further, in an area called Bertheir-su-Mer we stopped and got a room at a motel that the couple had told us about.   In America this place might have been creepy, an aging motel on the riverfront with a faded sign along a two lane highway.   Here there is nothing creepy about it;  the rooms are clean and a nice locally owned bar and restaurant is attached.

We had a nice simple dinner watching the sun set over the river.


The next morning we had breakfast at the same restaurant, the Mont Sainte Anne ski resort visible across the river.

Maybe it is just me, but in America a menu might offer “two eggs any style with toast, hash browns and choice of bacon or sausage.”   Here they say the same, in French, except that they say  “bacon, sausage or cheese.”    Cheese?   So I got cheese.   This is a low cost restaurant but unlike America plastic utensils are nowhere to be seen and the bread is fresh.


All day La Route Verte no. 1 mostly followed Quebec highway 132 as we biked about fifty miles along the riverfront in lovely sunny weather.



There were a lot of other bicyclists on La Route Verte.   Most were not carrying luggage so we assume they were locals but there were lots of them.    We ran into this guy, English speaking Canadian from British Columbia, he had been riding for about a week starting in Ottawa.   He said he was going all the way to Newfoundland.   Unlike us, he was going on the cheap, camping every night, sometimes sleeping in the weeds,  and expected to be biking for weeks.   He said he was responsible for no one, he only had to text his daughter every few days to show he was still alive.

Quebec has lots of locally owned hamburger and ice cream joints they call a Casse-Croute.    Note that we were not the only bicyclists eating lunch there.

I saw his poster about the upcoming Chicken Festival while eating hamburgers at the casse-croute.   There are indeed parallels with rural America, even if people here do not speak English.   Demolition Derby!   Escape Games!   La Grande Debauche Gala de Lutte NSPW!  (professional wrestling!).   Polker Tournament!   Musical Gala!  Smoke Show!  Rooster lunch!   Flea Market!  Derby de la Releve! (I think another kind of car crash thing). 


We spent the night in a motel out by the highway next to the town of La Pocatiere.  Dinner was at the adjacent restaurant Mikes.  Mikes is a regional chain based in Montreal.   Breakfast was at the Tim Hortons next door.   Tim Hortons (“Always Fresh”) is named after a hockey player and is like the Dunkin Donuts of Canada.



Quiz question:  why do both Mikes and Tim Hortons not have an apostrophe after their name?

Answer:  BECAUSE IT IS ILLEGAL.   Public signs in Quebec must be in French, and French does not have an apostrophe.   According to Wikipedia, McDonald’s gets away with it because they are, well, McDonald’s.

Quebec has a well funded government office that English speakers derisively refer to as the “language police.”   This office goes over things like restaurant menus.   Restaurants in Quebec cannot use the word pasta, because that is Italian, not French.  Seriously.

This underscores the stress of trying to preserve French language culture in a democracy without being draconian.   Before the language laws were passed in the 1970’s French speakers felt like a persecuted majority, surrounded not only by the English speaking hordes in Ontario and the U.S.A., but bossed by an English speaking elite in Quebec.   Now, big cities like Montreal and to a degree, Quebec City, both look multicultural and multiracial and are populated with immigrants from French speaking places like Haiti, Algeria, Morocco, Cameroon, and Vietnam.   The rest of Quebec, not so much.   Outside of Quebec City and Montreal over eight days I saw a total of about four people of color or Asian.  I also saw over a hundred real estate signs and I started keeping tabs.   Only ONCE was did the selling agent have a last name (“Baker”) that was not obviously French.   Using real estate agents as a non-scientific sample, the overwhelming majority of people in rural Quebec have French language surnames.

I applaud les Quebecois for preserving their language.    But this does underscore how difficult it becomes, with often the devil in the details.

Most people in rural Quebec seem to be from Quebec.   In eight days in Quebec north of Montreal, with the hundreds and hundreds of cars that passed me on the bicycle I saw less than ten cars with license plates from other parts of Canada like Ontario or New Brunswick.   I saw a total of two cars with USA plates.  Two.

Leaving La Pocatiere we continued cycling northwest along the St. Lawrence River.   La Route Verte directed us through towns, along the highway, and along parallel bike paths., some of them paved, some of them fine gravel.    We got an early start.




By early afternoon we had completed 80% of the mileage for the day and we felt comfortable stopping at this microbrewery.   It sat by itself on a lightly travelled highway.   On this sunny Friday at 2:30 PM it was packed with people.   We sat indoors at the bar but the locals seemed to enjoy sitting in the sun.

Since I am from North Carolina and our state government practically shut down on this issue, I bring up public toilets in Quebec.   They seem much more forward thinking of this subject than in the USA.    Almost all public toilets in restaurants and gas stations were marked as being for both sexes.  Many places (like this brewery) had a shared sink with stalls open to all, a setup I have hardly even seen in the USA.


Back on the bicycles we cycled up to Riviere du Loup (population 24,000) which along with the upcoming Rimouski is one of the two larger towns in this area.   Both are college towns.  The Riviere du Loup downtown sits up on a bluff above the river.

We had no idea why these streets were blocked off.  It turned out it was for go-kart racing.  They were loud.

From the Hotels Dot Com website we had found the lowest cost accommodations on this trip; US$ 32.00 per night including tax for a university dorm room right across from the go-kart track.  Thankfully, the racing noise stopped by 6:00 PM.   Caveat: there was no air conditioning and the shared bathroom was down the hall, just like in college.  Unlike my actual college only a few rooms were occupied and the hallway was clean and quiet.  I guess it is summer break.


We had to bicycle uphill to get there but downtown Riviere du Loup on a summer Friday night was hopping.  They had a heavy metal band performing on the street downtown during the dinner hour, cover songs in English and a few originals in French.   We walked around before the music started.





We ate outside at a restaurant called L’innocent.   It was a few blocks up the hill from the heavy metal action; we could hear the music while eating but the sound was not overwhelming.   We also people watched.


The next morning we got breakfast at Cafe Van Houte which I later learned is a Montreal coffee chain.  There are a couple key differences from Starbucks.  These differences were true at every other coffee place we visited in Quebec, both chain stores and locally owned.   The croissants were absolutely fresh and delicious and were served on actual china plates with real silverware.



We bicycled out of town.



A few miles outside of Riviere du Loup we met a guy on the highway who on Instagram goes by the name Unicycle_Dave.    He lives in Toronto and had started unicycling 2000 miles west in British Columbia.  His custom made unicycle has a 36 inch wheel and a two speed gearbox.   It is a fixie, he cannot coast, he has to always keep pedaling.  He had been on the road 49 days and wants to go all the way across Canada to St. Johns, Newfoundland.   He regular job is in video production and despite the fact that he had little room to carry anything, he had all sorts of complicated photography equipment, including a video drone, which he said he used occasionally.   He wants to make a documentary movie about his journey.   With his I-phone Lyman filmed me riding with him down a hill, as well as a still shot of the two of us.


photo by Lyman Labry




We continued to bicycle along the riverside.    The St. Lawrence was now so wide that you couldn’t see the other side, it was like the ocean.



We had decided to spend the night in the small town of Trois Pistoles, halfway between Riviere du Loup and Rimouski.    Being on the waterfront it is very much a vacation town.



The next day would be our final day of cycling.   We were headed to Rimouski where we had a reservation for an Enterprise rent-a-car to drive back to Montreal.

These forty something miles were the wildest of our trip, the flatness of a flood plain on the south bank of the St. Lawrence evolved into rocky outcroppings reminiscent of pictures I have seen of places like Nova Scotia.




About ten miles of the ride is through Parc National du Bic.   We had smooth high pressure bicycle tires not well suited for off-road.   These gravel trails were not as challenging as we feared, the riding was actually quite nice.



At a mini-mart we ran into Graham Rush, a retired Canadian foreign service office living in Kingston, Ontario.    He was on a month-long solo bicycle ride, camping most of the time.   He has toured by bicycle all over the world.


Rimouski (population 48,000) is a surprisingly large almost sophisticated feeling place with  a waterfront bicycle path.

We dodged the rain just in time to haven a late lunch at this crepe restaurant where we had to wait for a table on this Sunday afternoon.

That evening we walked around downtown Rimouski where some kind of summer festival was going on.

I heard what I thought was live music, it turned out only to be a guy singing through a karaoke machine.    Still, the crowd all knew the chorus.    I have been playing and singing City of New Orleans on the guitar for forty years; obviously someone turned this around into a new song (in French!)

(click on any letter above)

The next morning at 7:00 AM I bicycled by myself through Rimouski to Enterprise Car Rental in the suburbs, right next to the Walmart.   Even in Canada the Walmart is safe harbor.   Just like in the USA people know that Walmart does not mind you parking there.   There were about forty camping vehicles that had stayed overnight in the Walmart lot.

We had four hundred miles and a six hour drive just to get to the New York State / Canada border!   I easily got the car and drove back to the hotel to pick up Lyman and his bicycle.


Image  —  Posted: August 16, 2019 in Canada trips

This trip had been on my bucket list of many years, to ride the length of Long Island.   To a Southerner,  Long Island seemed this exotic place, its New Yorkedness accentuated by its physical isolation.  (Those living on Long Island essentially have to go through New York City to go anywhere else.)   Was this idea true?

To find out, from my home in Chapel Hill NC I drove by myself up to Richmond VA and took Amtrak from there to New York City.  Amtrak regulations allow a folding bicycle and I have taken my Bike Friday on Amtrak many times.   On previous trips I was always able to put the bicycle in a set of luggage shelves just inside the railcar entrance.    This time these shelves were already full.  I just put the folded bicycle in the overhead rack!   No one said anything.

I arrived Penn Station in Manhattan just before four in the afternoon.   Most of the station is underground.

I hauled the bicycle down from the overhead and hauled it the very short distance out the train door and onto the Penn Station platform.   In a few minutes I had assembled the bicycle and strapped my trunk bag onto the back.   I could wheel everything away up into the Big Apple that lurked above.

I pushed the bicycle up an escalator and then through the maze of crowded hallways lined with stores that comprises Penn Station.

My brother Alex lives in Park Slope Brooklyn, about nine miles from Penn Station.   My son Sam has been living in Brooklyn as well.   To get to Alex’s place I first had to bicycle down Manhattan’s crowded Seventh Avenue.  (Mick Jagger: “I can’t give it away on Seventh Avenue!”)  This is what it looks like in front of Penn Station.



Bicycling in traffic in Manhattan is exciting but not as crazy as one would think    I cut over to Second Avenue, then to the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn.   I looked back at lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.

I had brought my own bicycle but New York City did institute bicycle sharing in 2013 and calls it Citi Bike.  I had predicted that bicycle sharing for New York was possibly a good idea but it would be a bloodbath of tourists getting run over.  I was wrong.   There are currently 62,000 public shared bicycle rides in New York EVERY DAY.   It was four years and millions of rides before a woman was run over and killed by a bus.    You see these bicycle stands all over the city.

New York also now has bike paths.  From 2007-2013 the NYC Transportation Commissioner was someone (now somewhat famous) named Jeanette Sadik-Khan.   She discovered that she controlled almost no money or power to build things like bicycle trails, but had almost unlimited power to direct how existing New York City streets were PAINTED.   She directed the painting of bike lanes as she saw fit and did this with abandon across the five boroughs of New York.   Among many streets she had a bike path painted to narrow a prominent street in Brooklyn called Prospect Park West.    Living on this street was and is Senator Chuck Schumer and his wife Iris Weinshall,  herself an important politician.   Iris Weinshall hated this bike path and used her considerable political influence to try to kill it.   It made news to bicycle supporters all over the country that Chuck Schumer was trying to axe a bike path in front of his apartment.   He failed; Sadik-Khan won, and I thought about that as I biked on that very path on the way to Alex’s apartment, Prospect Park on my right.

I had a wonderful sushi dinner that night with Alex, his teenage son Max, my son Sam, and my nephew Danny.   I slept on Alex and Kristi’s sofa and parked my bicycle in their living room.   In addition to Max they have a one year old daughter named Eleanor Claire.

The next morning I headed out.    First I stopped by Sam’s apartment in the neighborhood of Bushwick.  He is in the process of moving out, going to Vietnam.


My four days of cycling out Long Island ended up looking like this:


On my first day out  I would cycle across Brooklyn, over to the Rockaways and Rockaway Beach, then Long Beach before turning back inland to Freeport.

Brooklyn has neighborhoods of lovely brownstones.


In the poorer neighborhood of East New York this guy was bicycling with his dog in one of Sadik-Khan’s bike lanes.

I followed two other bicyclists as we rode by the enormous field of apartment “towers in the park” Spring Creek Towers, formerly called Starrett City.




On the water side of Shore Parkway there is a quite nice bike path along Jamaica Bay.   A bicyclist here feels divorced from the city.  It was quite peaceful if you could ignore the scream of the cars and trucks on the parallel expressway.



The path leads a bicyclist by the former airport Floyd Bennett Field, now a park.    I rode on a narrow pedestrian walkway across Marine Parkway Bridge that separates Brooklyn from the Rockaways.



It’s not hard, not hard to reach.   We can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach.

All I really knew about Rockaway Beach was the Ramones song released in 1977.   I have been listening to that song for over forty years but had never been to Rockaway Beach.   I always felt the song was tongue in cheek, sort of making fun of the New York beach.   But maybe not.  I recently heard a version recorded in about 2012 by the all-female Japanese band Shonen Knife from their tribute album Osaka Ramones.   Here it is performed live.   Listen for a minute, it grows on you.



I have never much thought of New York City as a beach town but it really can be, apparently.   On this Friday the 31st of May in Jacob Riis Park the lifeguards were out but the summer had barely begun.


The residential area of Belle Harbor it could almost pass for my mother’s neighborhood in Virginia Beach.

Eventually there was a boardwalk to bicycle on.


It is interesting that while beach real estate in and near New York City can be expensive, it is certainly not THE most expensive place to live in New York.   In a few places on or near the oceanfront there is public housing, subsidized housing for the poor.  Fascinating.

Big airplanes landing at JFK airport passed overhead,  There were coming in from far-away places.   The first photo in an Airbus 380, the largest passenger aircraft.  The second photo is an almost as big British Airways 747.



I threaded mostly on the oceanfront through various municipalities collectively known as “The Rockaways” until I came to Atlantic Beach Bridge onto the next barrier island, which contains Atlantic Beach and Long Beach.  For cars there is a $2.00 toll on this very short bridge.



The preponderance of tolls in New York reminded me of the longest book I have ever read, a 1300+ page biography of Robert Moses; The Power Broker, by Robert Caro.

OK, who is Robert Moses?   He was never elected to any office, yet he was so powerful that even President Franklin Roosevelt was sometimes afraid to take him on.   He controlled much of New York City and New York State from about 1928 to 1968.   A major basis of his power was obsession with legal details, especially bond issues.  He personally wrote the fine print for the bonds sold to build stuff like this Atlantic Beach Bridge.   In most cases he hard-baked into the project these tolls and made them impossible to remove.   He made himself director of the Authorities that controlled the toll money.    Robert Moses was instrumental in building many of the nation’s first freeways, New York state parks and “slum clearance” projects.  He got involved nationally in projects to promote what we now call suburban sprawl, tearing down inner cities and building freeways.  Much of the public infrastructure, both good and bad, in the New York area, has the fingerprints of Robert Moses.   On this bike trip I was always looking for Robert Moses projects, his 1930’s freeways and art-deco public buildings.  The toll plaza above and this 1930’s looking traffic sign were among them.


On this trip I passed many of Robert Moses’ cloverleaf intersections, some built as early as the 1930’s, to Parkways that prohibit trucks and bicycles.

I walked the bike across the bridge to Atlantic Beach, then started biking east.   For about a mile covering the oceanfront was a series of beach clubs.   Each had the same schtick; “members only” and valet parking.

Another factoid:   Sonny and Vito Corleone lived in Atlantic Beach and Long Beach, adjacent towns.  The location of the the Corleone gated compound is not mentioned in the movie but is in the book.  The scene where Sonny was rubbed out was supposed to have been at the Long Beach Causeway toll plaza.

In downtown Long Beach I had lunch at a “Mexican” bar / restaurant.    It was quite good, in its own way.   Who I assume is the owner stared at me all during the meal.

There was only one other table occupied.



I biked through Long Beach and the adjacent towns.  They did not look at all Godfatherish, just a beach town look.   For much of the way I could cycle on the boardwalk.



A Robert Moses legacy was that he loved to build Parkways.   These were freeways that prohibit trucks and buses.   I made it easier for him to keep public transport (and poor people) away from his glorious Jones Beach State Park.   I wanted to but could not bicycle to Jones Beach and see the famous Art Deco bathhouse planned and built by Robert Moses.  Loop Parkway that connects Long Beach with Jones Beach prohibits not only trucks but bicycles.     Ocean Parkway along that beach also supposedly prohibits bicycles.

For this night and the following night I had already reserved and paid for rooms at Airbnbs.    This first night would be in the “town” of Freeport.    I put that in quotes because western Long Island is filled with continuous urbanism but politically divided into a series of towns.  Freeport looks all-American.   Compared to Long Beach, which looks all-white, it took me a while to realize that everyone in Freeport, at least everyone I could publicly see, was either Hispanic or African-American.


This is the house of my Airbnb.


My room was the front upstairs bedroom.   It was clean and tidy but you clearly were staying in someone’s house.   I shared the bathroom with the family, and at night when I walked out of my room to the bathroom I could see the open door to the seventy-something host couple’s bedroom.   They spoke little English but were super nice and accommodating.  Compared to a cheap hotel, it was totally NOT sleazy.

I am now safe to say that this neighborhood is majority Dominican, as in the Dominican Republic.   A few blocks away I walked into a restaurant.  I had never been to a Dominican restaurant before.

It was brightly lit. There was a bar in one corner.  Being Dominican, they were watching, what else, baseball, or in this case women’s college softball.

I wanted something simple and a seven dollar bowl of chicken soup really hit the spot, accompanied by a side dish of rice and a side dish of beans.


This was my route the next day.


My ideal schedule when bicycling is to get up early, ride ten or fifteen miles, then stop for coffee and a light breakfast.

The streets in this part of Long Island are relatively well connected so I could bicycle for miles on minor mostly residential streets on this peaceful Saturday morning.  I had come to Long Island expecting, I dunno, the home of My Cousin Vinny.   Instead it all looked pretty normal.




New York Beanery in Amityville had a good almond milk latte and a superb egg and avocado toast.


I did see several mega-diners, we certainly do not have these in North Carolina.   I consider these real cultural icons, nowhere else in the world (except maybe New Jersey!).



Note the two luxury cars in front of this one, a Range Rover and a Lincoln.

Plus this place, not exactly a diner.

I passed by a Saturday morning lacrosse practice.   At the college level lacrosse is an exciting sport to watch.  My alma mater Washington College in rural Maryland had and has a very competitive team and some of the most exciting sporting events I have ever seen were Washington College lacrosse games in the seventies.   I learned then that a huge percentage of great lacrosse players came from either Long Island or the Baltimore area.

Apparently lacrosse is still a big deal on Long Island.    I do not think most areas would have organized lacrosse for very young girls.   How old do they look, about eight?


Is was able to bicycle on minor highways and most had pleasantly wide shoulders, almost like a bike path.  In North or South Carolina the highway below would have stopped at the white line.   Maybe in the Northeast wide shoulders are needed for snow removal.



My accommodations that evening were nice but really unusual.  In an area where motels were expensive this Airbnb cost a low eighty dollars, tax included.   Vectoring off the main road I biked through a normal looking upper working class neighborhood with ranch houses; pickup trucks and RVs in the driveways.   Near the end of the road, in contrast to the other houses were a couple of much larger lots with wooded front yards and long driveways.   I checked the address again and hesitated.  Was I in the wrong place?   The gate and driveway did not look well maintained.  I called my Airbnb contact but no one answered.  The woman finished her voice mail with mas salam malek kum, which I know to be an Arabic greeting.   Whatever.  I took a deep breath and bicycled up the driveway.



There were a couple of cars that looked like they had not been driven in a while, including a Lincoln Navigator.


I walked up to the front door.   The trim was peeling paint and there was a old plastic water bottle on the door sill.


I sucked it up and rang the bell.    Thirty seconds of silence. It was answered by a South Asian looking guy, sixty something.   He smiled and said in accented English, yes, he was expecting me.   Come on in.  He walked me through sparsely furnished or totally empty living / dining rooms to a bedroom at the back of the ground floor.   The room was huge.   I took this picture after I had already messed up the bed; the room was clean and well furnished, with the kind of enormous master bathroom one would expect from such a giant house.   The carpet was spotless.   He had left three fresh oranges on the table.   I ate one the next morning, it was delicious.

If you look at the top right of the photo above you will see water stains where the roof had been leaking.

There was a recently used looking pair of slippers on the floor, size small.

There was a large walk-in closet full of women’s clothes.   Are these Middle Eastern or South Asian garments?

Being nosy, I opened the nightstand drawer on left side of the bed and it contained nothing but a freshly printed stack of paper having something to do with medical school tests or applications.

The nightstand on the other side had only the TV remote and a copy of the Quran.

Because I left early the next morning I was not able to talk to the guy again.  I left the key under the mat.  Regretably I never learned anything more about these people.

I did need to go out to dinner.   After showering and and changing clothes I biked about a mile back to the main road and La Volpe Ristorante, which sat by itself on the highway.   Sophie Loren and other famous Italians had their portraits on the walls.   I love to cook and my current obsession is Italian.   We do not have many good Italian restaurants in North Carolina.


I had a nice seat at the bar.  The guy next to me commented on my Southern accent.   Fascinating.  Yes, I am from Virginia Beach and live in North Carolina but I never thought I had any kind of accent.  In the South I am practically a Yankee.   Only on Long Island, I guess.  The bartender who served us was a real pro.


I love clams and especially prefer those from colder water in the north.   The further south you go clams apparently get worse.  My buddy Lyman from warm water New Orleans has an innate fear of clams.  At La Volpe in the town of Center Moriches NY fresh cavatelli pasta with clams, mushrooms, beans, and arugula was the best meal of this entire trip.


The next morning I slipped out early.   This is a map of my third day out.   My destination was Montauk, the last town near the end of South Fork.

Out on the road on an early Sunday morning it was peaceful and slightly foggy.



Quite soon I started cycling through The Hamptons.   Towns are named Westhampton, Southampton, East Hampton, Hampton Bay, Bridgehampton.   On and on.  Clearly real estate is worth more if the word Hampton is included.

Westhampton is the first Hampton.  Almost ten miles BEFORE the actual town of Westhampton the name game begins with this development.  One can tell the neighbors: “We bought a house in The Hamptons.”


In the same area, likely undocumented workers stood around waiting for a job.


In the next three hours I passed dozens of fancy houses that are probably only occupied a few weeks per year.   Most do not have water views.    People are apparently willing to pay millions of dollars for the privilege of having a house in The Hamptons.

I could see more detail when I bicycled off the busy main highway and onto side roads.  Yes, these houses really do cost millions of dollars each.












Past East Hampton there actually is quite a bit empty pine barren.   Much of this is public land like Napeague and Hither Hills State Parks.

Montauk NY.  Just because of its location I have been wanting to come here for a long time.   On the map it has that aura of Provincetown or Key West, a town at the end of the road.  It really is just a small beach town.   My friend John Soehner says Montauk is a great place.   I should have brought him along to show me around.


I stayed in Daunt’s Albatross Motel.


The restaurants in Montauk are expensive.    I grew up in a beach town and know that spending a lot on fancy food might not get you that much.   I ate in a pizza joint, listening to two Catholic priests at the next table loudly talk shop, problems at their work, one an older white guy, the other younger and black, with an African accent.

The next morning I was really ready to get out of town, back to some kind of less touristy America.

There is an hourly ferry to Connecticut at the tip of the other fork, the North Fork, at Orient Point NY.   That would be my destination this fourth day out.


I first cycled back fourteen miles back to East Hampton and and got breakfast at Starbucks.   Starbucks seemed like one of the few gathering places in East Hampton for all social classes.   It was a weekday, there were guys who could have been electricians alongside some very tall and skinny blond women talking some language I did not recognize.


The rest of the downtowns in The Hamptons are mostly sanitized, many storefronts turned into real estate offices advertising multi-million dollar houses.

I turned north towards the town of Sag Harbour.   It looks less cutesified that The Hamptons but I now know that it is almost as expensive.

To get to the Orient Point Ferry towards Connecticut I first had to take two smaller ferries,  to the south shore of Shelter Island and then from the north shore of that same island.  It was a beautiful day.


It was something of a relief to arrive into the town of Greenport, that last real town going out east onto the North Fork.   Compared to The Hamptons and the rest of the South Fork, Greenport looked and felt like a real town.   I got a sandwich for lunch at Goldberg’s Famous Bagels.


It is nine miles further out the North Folk to the tip, Orient Point, where the ferry leaves.

On the side of the road was this beautiful saltbox house, built in 1656.   It did have a historical marker but otherwise I think it is just somebody’s house.

At the end of the road there is a ferry terminal and a small marina / bar / restaurant.   I stopped in for a beer.

The ferry ride to New London CT took about an hour and a half.


I had a place to go when I arrived New London CT, an Airbnb booked online.

Arriving into New London CT by ferry the steeply gabled houses and rocky coastline immediately screamed “New England.”

New London CT is not a fru-fru place.   While not a complete wreck like Bridgeport CT or Trenton NJ,  New London looks like a working class town just trying to get by.   I find it exotic.  Its big employers are the U.S. Coast Guard and the large submarine construction base in Groton, just across the river.   My ferry landed in downtown New London.   I biked off the ferry and headed towards the address of an Airbnb.




This is the house of my Airbnb and the proprietor’s bumper stickered Volvo station wagon.  I had no idea what to expect.   It was an unusual Airbnb.


Her living room.

The Airbnb was a portion of an upstairs bedroom.    Most of the bedroom was my hostess’ art studio.

The opposite side of this small room was for me.   We shared a bathroom.

We found we had a lot of common interests and she was a pleasure to chitchat with.

That evening I biked the mile or two back to downtown New London to look for somewhere to eat.    There is not a huge selection of restaurants in New London anyway and on a Monday night many places were closed.   Thames Landing was only just OK.


The next day I bicycled east towards Westerly, Rhode Island.   This was my day’s route.

On the way out of town Muddy Waters Cafe in central New London is a really nice place for my kind of breakfast.    Those from Durham NC take note:  there was a Merge Records sticker on their front steps!


I crossed a high bridge over the Thames River.

I then bicycled east mostly on small and curvy roads, frequently with short bursts of very steep grades.



Brick walls were are ubiquitous.   I cannot imagine all the work in earlier generations hauling these stones out of the ground to enable trying to eke a living out of this rocky landscape.    You see these walls for miles through otherwise wooded areas, indications that these areas were once farmland.


I was still on the lookout for great clam chowder.   Clams and especially lobsters are pretty foreign in North Carolina.   Right near the Connecticut / Rhode Island state line there was a takeout seafood store with two chairs and one table for those who wanted to eat-in with plastic utensils.   After polishing off a bowl of clam chowder I ate $ 8.70 worth of amazing lobster salad, also sold by the pound.



I bicycled a long way through surprisingly wooded and remote-seeming land.    I was quite tired in the late afternoon when I pulled into the charming town of Wakefield RI.   There was a place called Brickley’s with very good house-made coffee chip ice cream.

I had not completely planned this bicycle expedition through Long Island and New England.  I had had vague ideas about going all the way to Boston.   One advantage with Amtrak is that it is relatively flexible.    I had had a great trip but I had spent enough money and I was ready to go home.  I haggled a deal over the phone for a quite nice (fru-fru!) conventional Bed and Breakfast in that same town Wakefield RI.  I booked Amtrak to leave the Kingston RI station at 7:11 AM the next morning, taking me all the way back on one train to my Toyota parked in Richmond VA.  I would be home in Chapel Hill NC by 8:00 PM that same evening.

Leaving at 6:15 AM I bicycled the eight miles to the station, almost all of it on a rail-trail bike path.



I have a special shout-out to TLC Coffee Roasters in West Kingston RI who I found at 6:55 AM.  They had, “to go” a large decaf coffee, refrigerator oatmeal for breakfast, and a quite good pastrami sandwich for lunch.    On Amtrak you should always bring your own food.

Tootie had a delicious dinner waiting for me in Chapel Hill when I got home.


I am originally from Virginia Beach VA but have lived in North Carolina for thirty years. North Carolina, it is said, is an island of humility between two mountains of conceit; i.e. Virginia and South Carolina.    I enjoy bicycling in central Virginia and looking at all the history signs along the road, even if I perhaps irrationally get annoyed with the weight of the past, the traditions that Virginia seems inundated with.

My idea for a two or three day ride was to drive two and a half hours north from Chapel Hill, park the car in suburban Richmond and bicycle somewhere from there.   I chose Mechanicsville as a starting point, nine miles northeast of downtown Richmond.   At about 11:00 AM I parked our Prius at the Mechanicsville Walmart and pulled my folding Bike Friday out of the back.     Apparently anyone can park in a Walmart parking lot for any length of time.  Many Americans associate freedom with freedom to park.  Freedom!  After parking the car I bicycled up to the store, locked the bike, and went inside to buy a toothbrush.    Maybe I do not get out much,  but the Mechanicsville Walmart seemed like the largest store interior I had ever seen.

I honestly had expected to be able to bicycle away from Mechanicsville into the rural Virginia countryside.   Instead, I found myself bicycling through miles of non-connected exurban housing developments and strip malls.   I tried to cycle on minor roads but they kept bringing me back to the same general area in the northern Richmond suburbs.   There were a lot of people eating at a restaurant in a strip mall so I stopped for lunch.

By late afternoon I had bicycled over thirty miles but really had not gone anywhere.  I was disappointed.  It was my fault, I had not done enough planning.  I thought about biking back to the Walmart,  putting the bike in the car and driving home.  Instead, I biked fifteen miles further over to Ashland VA, home of Randolph Macon College, a town whose claim to fame is the CSX and Amtrak main line that runs down the middle of its Main Street.  There was a low price at a Motel 6.   Motel 6’s are usually OK but this one seemed sleazy, with junk spread around the lobby.   If I may generalize, South Asians usually do a good job of running motels.  Not here.


With the current state of television, hotel TV’s are now particularly useless because one has to be old school and watch what is playing at that time, with ads. Instead,  I sat in the weak and lumpy bed and watched the legal drama The Good Fight on my phone.



Later on I bicycled downtown to the tracks and sat at a bar/restaurant called The Iron Horse.  I had meatloaf while the bartender and I watched the trains go by.   The place was mostly empty on this Monday night.



I had thought this trip was a washout, but it got better!   The following day, riding towards Fredericksburg, the bike riding immediately became much more relaxed.  North of Ashland car traffic almost ceased and I found myself bicycling on lovely country roads through either forests or horse country, where the land is chopped up into large residential plots.  I saw very little actual farming.  I started seeing signs marked US Bicycle Route 1 and started following them.



Being Virginia, there are, of course, lots of historical markers, even on back roads.   I find this one creepy.  I’ll never wash that pitcher again.


The circuitous but scenic Bicycle Route 1 crossed actual U.S. Highway 1, which is the older highway that parallels Interstate 95.    Washington is the closest really big city to where I grew up, Norfolk and Virginia Beach.   Both my parents had horror stories about driving on US-1 between Richmond and Washington before I-95 was built.  Mom talked about driving with me and my siblings in our station wagon on this four lane road in the 1960’s with no center divider and jammed with high speed heavy trucks.  Mom said she had nightmares about it.    Dad said he had lost several friends to traffic accidents during the 1930’s-1950’s on what he claimed was called “Bloody One.”      The highway looked physically the same as my 1960’s memories but with clearly not as much traffic.   I was just bicycling across.

The final miles into Fredericksburg were through the national battlefield park.

I was ready for a break at fifty-six miles when I pulled into Sammy T’s in downtown Fredericksburg.

On these bike trips of mine I rarely cycle more than fifty miles per day.   On this trip, maybe it was the wine, but I started thinking:  I had already bicycled fifty-six miles, it was only 2:00 in the afternoon, the wind was at my back and I wasn’t at all tired.   Why not bicycle a Century, one hundred miles in a day?   I hadn’t done this in years.    I finished lunch and headed off towards D.C.

I bicycled through the older parts of Fredericksburg with the Strava app still set on my phone. I now had a goal: one hundred miles in a day.

As I biked across the river.  I learned this day that Fredericksburg marks the fall line, the highest navigable point on the Rappahannock.


I continued to follow signs for Bicycle Route 1, which guided me on smaller country roads.  Unfortunately, the suburbs of Washington DC start at Fredericksburg, sixty miles out.   Roads had more and more traffic.

And despite the sunny weather predictions, it started to rain; hard, in the middle of nowhere surrounded by lots of traffic on a two lane road.   There was nothing to do but soldier on.   My goal this day was a mileage, not a specific destination.   An hour or two into the ride I must have missed a  Bicycle Route 1 sign.  I was off the route.  I just kept bicycling until I reached a strip of motels outside of the U.S. Marine Base in Quantico VA.    The mileage on my Strava app read ninety-six miles.  I continued on, circling around a residential area for half an hour trying to add four miles but Strava refused to move!   True fact:  I had not turned on the Strava app until half an hour into the start of the ride that morning.   I was not going to be a slave to some computer application.  I am confident I did somewhat over one hundred miles.   Really.   Here is a screen shot of my phone.


I booked a room at a Quality Inn next to US1 and I-95.   After a rest I walked across a sea of parking lots to the chain restaurant Ruby Tuesday.    The military is quite diverse, there was an interesting multiracial group of people sitting at the bar.   Salmon cooked rare with hickory bourbon sauce was healthy and delicious.

For the next day, to bicycle the safest and most pleasant route it was still at least fifty miles further north to Union Station in downtown Washington DC where I could take Amtrak back to Richmond.   After my experiences six months ago in Savannah I swore I would never bicycle again on an openly dangerous road.  For the first few miles through the Marine base there were few options.  Because there was no easy route other than the six lane US Highway 1, I took an Uber the first seventeen miles, from Quantico to Lorton.   North from Lorton the Mount Vernon Trail goes all the way to central D.C., first along the highway, then along the Potomac River.


Around President Washington’s Mount Vernon the Potomac River is much more of an estuary than a river.

Too much history.    Tour buses lined up outside Mount Vernon.

On my phone I keep a list of future bicycle riding destinations.    “Hollin Hills-Alexandria VA” has been sitting there awhile.  It comes, I think, from an article I read in the Washington Post about a development with dozens off 1950-60’s modernist tract houses.   Maybe Palm Springs CA is such a big modernist destination because houses show off better in the desert.    On the East Coast houses are hidden behind trees.




I bicycled through old town Alexandria.


North of Alexandria the Mount Vernon Trail circles Reagan National Airport.



The bike path then crosses the Potomac on the Fourteenth Street Bridge arriving into the District right in front of the Jefferson Memorial.


It was a pleasure to bicycle Washington crosstown to Union Station, where only an hour in advance I had booked Amtrak leaving at 3:30 PM for Richmond.    There are several ways to take a bicycle on an Amtrak train but it is often complicated.   It is not complicated with a folding bicycle.   You just lug it on any train, no case required.

I arrived into Main Street Station in Richmond that evening and spent the night downtown.   In the morning I bicycled through downtown Richmond and then out to the Walmart in Mechanicsville.  Our car was still there.


Three sixty-something guys went cycling for eight days through Italy, more or less Florence to Rome. The trip turned out to be much more of an athletic event than expected, with some of the steepest hills I have ever cycled.   Also, I had heard that Tuscany was over-touristed.  Could we, on bicycles, discover the real Tuscany?

This trip began as a vague idea.   Lyman and I had been searching for the next big bike ride in Europe, preferably Italy, Spain, or southern France.   Lyman’s friend (now also my friend) Randy Greenberg, a computer professional, taught Lyman some tricks when searching online for air fares.   We needed a low price to anywhere.

I live in Chapel Hill NC. The closest airport is Raleigh/Durham.   Lyman and Randy live in Austin TX.   Using Randy’s suggested apps we found round trip on American Airlines RDU airport to Rome airport in early April for only $ 533.00!!     Short flight to Charlotte NC, then nonstop to Rome!!     Only $633.00 round trip Austin TX to Charlotte to Rome!!   Lyman and I could go most of the way on the same airplane!!

These deals were too good to pass up.  As it turned out, these prices were only available for a few days.   Lyman and I agreed to fly to Rome in early April.    A few days later Randy agreed to join us.    We hurriedly bought the tickets while the price was still low.   We could work later on the details.

The flights going over had issues.  There were thunderstorms in Charlotte that delayed me twenty-four hours.   Due to that same weather Lyman and Randy were transferred by American Airlines to British Airways who subsequently lost Lyman’s luggage (i.e. bicycle) for an even longer amount of time.    We were two days behind schedule when at 12:45 PM on a Thursday we stepped off the high speed rail line at Santa Maria Novella station in central Firenze (Florence).   It had taken us from central Rome to Florence in under two hours.  Disclaimer: I have great friends Mandy and Iano who live in Florence.  With all the hassles we had been through we wanted to start bicycle riding immediately.  My apologies to Mandy and Iano for not calling you up while in town.

In the Florence train station we put together our folding bicycles, all Bike Friday brand.  We would make a good commercial for them.




Randy Greenberg



Lyman Labry


photo by Randy Greenberg



Over the next eight days we would cycle most of the way back to Rome, taking a circuitous route.


Otherwise from random we picked the town of Empoli for the first night because it was about twenty-five miles from central Florence.  We knew nothing about this town.

Finding a bicycle route out of Florence was challenging.   Larger Italian cities have confusing layouts.  Streets change names.  Roads change one-way directional status seemingly every block.

Finally we did break out of Florence.  Heading towards Empoli that first afternoon we were being chased by rain storms.  There was a gravel bike path along the Arno River some of the way.


Randy is very outgoing.    Despite the language differences he managed to start a conversation with this couple and convince them to pose for a picture   They were out picking rapa, a type of edible greens.    You can see the dark rain clouds in the background.


photo by Randy Greenberg


Eventually the bike path ended and we cycling on conventional roads with the traffic, threading along the Arno River.  As it was getting dark and as rain started we luckily made it into central Empoli and under the shelter of an awning.

Empoli does not seem at all touristy but very Italian.

We got drinks and snacks at a table on the street and watched the locals go by, or stand around our bicycles.


The rain eventually slowed down and I called a hotel just a couple of blocks away.   Asking in broken Italian, I was able to secure a room with three beds for eighty-five Euro, breakfast included.   What’s not to like?

After checking in and showering we looked for somewhere to eat that evening.   The only real restaurant open in Empoli was the fanciest looking restaurant we ate at our entire trip.     The food was delicious and really not all that expensive.

First course was one portion each of tagliatelle with artichokes.   I believe artichokes are in season in April.

For the main course I got tuna, seared rare.   The vegetables in the center were as delicious as the fish.


Randy got mixed fried seafood.


Lyman got another fish entree whose name I cannot recall.



The service was friendly and helpful.   At the end this guy poured us glasses of some kind of dessert wine, on the house.


The next morning I was impressed by the minimalist decor at the hotel breakfast.

We picked as our bicycle destination this second day somewhere we had indeed heard of, the hill town of San Gimignano.   We would once again have to dodge the rain.

Leaving Empoli we cycled through the streets of town.



Eventually we transitioned to pleasant country roads.

The bike riding this day varied between steep rural roads with little traffic, and relatively flat roads along the valley floor that teemed with large trucks.  After a few hours we parked our bicycles in front of this place for lunch in the town of Certaldo.

In this working class town we talked to two guys about our age on on the street before entering the restaurant.  They told us what to order: they said to get pasta meccanica followed by codfish cakes.    Following a practice of old Roman families I read about somewhere years ago we all got the same thing, which was what those guys suggested.



We had coffee but skipped dessert.  Just we were leaving it started to rain.   We ducked over to a covered outdoor cafe to wait out the rain with post-lunch beers.      We sat in this cafe for over an hour until Randy’s very handy use of cell phone weather maps indicated (correctly it turned out) that the storm was going to pass just to the south of us in our ride to San Gimignano.   As soon as the rain let up we biked off with still threatening clouds in the distance.



San Gimignano is a true hill town, visible from miles away.  This day it was surrounded by storms, sitting at the top in a defensible position with its distinctive medieval towers, threatening those who would attempt to bicycle up that steep hill.    The roads got steeper as we got closer.




We had taken a back road to avoid traffic.   The scenery was lovely and the pavement smooth. However, in all my bicycling I had never seen a grade so steep.    I have always prided myself on not walking my bicycle.   I did make it up this hill, but I cannot remember being so winded.   My sixty-three year old lungs were burning bright.    Lyman, Randy, and I were all windedly making jokes about having heart attacks.

Lyman approached the entrance to the walled city of San Gimignano.


The center of town is, or course, at the very top of the hill.   We found a nice hotel on the main square.  This was the view out the hotel window.


That night at the hotel we had ribollata, the Tuscan vegetable soup.    We walked around the town after supper.



According to Wikipedia tourists have been coming to San Gimignano since the late nineteenth century.     We walked around after breakfast the next morning.   Our fellow tourists were out in force.  Many had just arrived by tour bus.  Sure, there were some Americans here.  There were also Asians; Chinese.   There were French, Germans, British, and Italians from other parts of Italy.   Many came with with Selfie sticks.



In our modern world we all stare at our phones, or take pictures of everything.


On this Saturday morning there was a small farmer’s market.   Artichokes indeed are in season.   I bought Tootie a jar of honey.



photo by Randy Greenberg

From the back side of town you could just enjoy the view.


Our bicycle destination this third day would be the larger city of Siena.   We wanted to make our bicycle route as scenic as possible, on roads with the fewest cars.

Google Maps has a defect that has plagued me here in the USA, it does not differentiate between paved and non-paved roads.   At one point this day we found ourselves pushing our bicycles through the mud.




photo by Randy Greenberg

Stuck in the mud I advocated turning around.    I was outvoted.   The road luckily did improve dramatically just over the ridge.

By the time we had found a larger main road it was already past time for lunch.    We were on the outskirts of a town called Colle di Val D’Elsa, which sat, of course, up on a hill.   On the outskirts, down on the principal two line highway was Pizzeria Osteria 900.   A sign out front advertised two course pranzo (lunch) twelve Euro, wine and coffee included.

We were the only customers.   It turned out to be one of the best meals of the trip and certainly the best value.    The apparent owner was a thirty-something looking woman who later told us she had moved to Italy twenty years ago from Albania.   The waiter, her son,  looked about twelve years old.

Once again we all got the same thing.   First course was pasta with what she described as homemade ragu.  Delicious.


photo by Randy Greenberg

While we were eating the pasta we could hear in the kitchen the woman pounding to flatten chicken breasts.     Second course was lemon chicken and we each got a contorno (side dish) of carrots.   Italians do NOT like to mix different kinds of food on a plate.


It was all wonderful and we pressed her to accept more money for additional wine as we each had quickly downed the included one glass.    She charged us six Euros for an additional half liter.

Woozily back on the bikes still had another fifteen or twenty miles to Siena.    On the way we chose a short but steep climb to get a coffee at the medieval walled town of Monteriggioni.


There were a lot of tourists in this small town.  More local was a was a Catholic procession on this day before Palm Sunday, accompanied by strumming guitars.


Shops sold leather goods, a product of this region.   I pondered whether I could show my face in Chapel Hill wearing shoes like this.


Back on the road we cycled further on towards Siena, mostly uphill.

Compared to the hill towns Siena (population 54,000) felt like a real city.     It is about the same population now that it was in the year 1350.   I am sure there are a lot of tourists but they did not seem to overwhelm the place.



We biked into the central city and stopped for a beer, to ponder our next move.

photo by Randy Greenberg

We found a somewhat shabby but low cost hotel room with three beds.  After supper that night we walked around the city in the dark.   Just a couple of blocks from the hotel is the Piazza del Campo where they have been staging the annual Palio horse race for almost four hundred years.


The next morning this was the view out of our hotel window.   The second photo is Randy’s bicycle on that same street.


photo by Randy Greenberg


We biked out of Siena on this Palm Sunday morning.



For quite a distance we shared our route with a footrace, likely at 10-k.


Our destination this day would be the hill town of Montalcino.     From more than ten miles away you could see Montalcino looming in the distance at the top of a hill/mountain.    The hill appeared larger and steeper the closer we got.






We fought our way up this mammoth hill, arriving central Montalcino just as it was begining to rain.   To celebrate our ascent we bought a bottle of relatively high-end wine, a Brunello di Montalcino.

Because of the rain we ended up spending that night in Montalcino at this hotel, Albergo il Giglio.   It was all quite nice.


The next day was another beast of a climb, first riding east to the hilltop town of Pienza, then turning south to the hilltop town of Montepulciano.

This is the three of us after admiring the view from Pienza.

Halfway up some hill, Lyman and Randy paused to scope out the situation.


Some workers were thinning the olive trees, then burning the branches.


Yes, there are a lot of towns around here whose name starts with Monte.    Montepulciano was another great hill town, requiring another huge sweaty climb.

The hotel we found here was run by a woman about our age who clearly had artsy tendencies;  I wish I had taken her picture.  That evening we wanted a lighter evening meal.    We first sat down at an informal pizza joint but loud Lynyrd Skynyrd music convinced us to leave before ordering.  At a restaurant down the street a woman indicated they were open.    When we entered, she walked into their dining room and turned on the lights.   Obviously we were the only customers.

Pici is a form of homemade pasta frequently seen in Tuscany.   We had it several times.


Each strand is made by hand.  Traditionally this was peasant food, and the noodles contain only flour and water, no eggs.  Dough is rolled thin on a flat surface, then cut into strips.   Each strip is then rolled by hand into a tubular shaped.    They are then boiled and combined with sauce.  This younger woman and who I assumed was her mother were the only ones there.  They invited us into the kitchen after the meal and showed where they were making pici.

On the way out the older woman wanted to pour us a complimentary sweet liquore but for some reason we declined.   I am still not sure why.

The next day we bicycled about fifty miles, including some major hill climbs.  In mid-morning we stopped for a cappuccino at a gas station bar.    European gas stations frequently have nice bars.   No paper cups here, unless you ask.  That is Randy’s hand and water bottle on the right side of the picture.


After a serious climb we ate a sandwich for lunch al fresco in a small hill town, San Casciano Dei Bagni.   We chatted with two twenty or thirty-something Australian guys who were quite nice but ultimately seemed like clueless idle rich.   They had flown over in Business Class to be in Europe for several months but did not really have a plan.

Although that town had been seemed to be on a hilltop, after lunch we climbed even higher.   I looked back at the town.


The afternoon cycling was delightful along roads with no cars and surrounded by silence.    Sure, the hills were steep but at least the road was paved.    Until it wasn’t.   Cycling on gravel roads is trickier.    We pressed on.



We finally cycled into a river valley and along smoother, flatter roads with more traffic.    We had now left Tuscany for Umbria.  Our destination that evening was to be the town of Orvieto.  We really had no idea what to expect, and could not believe what we saw ahead of us.  Orvieto is built on almost vertical cliffs.   It was astonishingly formidable, especially after having cycled all day long.    Fourteenth century invading armies would certainly have been intimidated.

We somehow got up that hill and collapsed into a cafe to order a bottle of wine!   The bartender provided some nice free appetizers.


Dinner that night was at Trattoria La Palomba.    I had called an hour or two earlier for a reservation.  Italian restaurants like to be called, even on short notice.   It was packed but they had a table waiting for us.    This place is a little higher end than most other restaurants we ate at on this trip.

There was strangozzi (shoelace) pasta with shaved truffles.



It was followed by delicious meat main courses.  I got palomba, a type of dove.   The excess sauce was spread on toast.


Lyman ate roast lamb.

Randy got cinghiale, stew of wild boar.


And my favorite, a contorno of chicory greens.



We also split a dessert.

It was all wonderful, really.  Eating at places like this is what I like to do.


The next morning we walked around the vibrant city of Orvieto.



This included the cathedral with its distinctive multicolored marble.



photo by Randy Greenberg

Lyman, who is an architect, has a good eye for details, like noticing this door hinge.


This was to be our final day of bicycle riding.   Our flights home departed the next day from Rome airport.    Our biking destination this final day was to be the small city of Orte.

Of course this bike ride began with a steep downhill from hilltop Orvieto.   First we had to bicycle through the city gates.


We cycled along a river valley.

About 11:45 AM we were passing by a small town and Randy announced that he was running out of gas, he really needed to eat something.   We were not ready for lunch yet, so he went into a cafe by himself to refuel while Lyman and I waited outside.   In America this would have been done at a Mini-Mart.   Here in Italy they have much more style.


photo by Randy Greenberg


The downhill “road” from that small town was so steep that we had to walk the bicycles.


An hour or two later in a dingy, flat, and drab looking town we had lunch at a motel/cafe/pizza place.   I am always on the lookout for great vegetable dishes.   Here to accompany the pasta was vignarola, the Roman stew of braised spring vegetables, especially artichokes and fava beans.


photo by Randy Greenberg

After lunch we still had about fifteen or twenty miles to Orte, our train station.   The cycling turned out to be much more challenging than expected.   Along the Tiber River the narrow flat valley was consumed by a rail line, an autostrada (freeway), and an older highway packed with trucks.   Google Maps also showed a network of smaller roads more amenable to bicycling.   Some of these roads were flat and well paved.

Sometimes the roads were much worse.   To our dismay these smaller roads frequently zigged at steep angles up the cliffs lining the river.    Sometimes the pavement just stopped and the roads became rutted gravel.   These were some of the steepest grades I have ever experienced.




Sometimes when things go bad they actually get better.  The roads improved.   Our destination town of Orte, we discovered, sits on a cliff overlooking the Tiber River.

The rail line does not actually go to Orte, it goes to something called Orte Scalo, at the bottom of the hill by the river.    We thought this meant we would not have to climb that hill, but got so lost in finding Orte Scalo that we ended up at the top of the hill anyway!  We arrived at Orte Scalo train station about five in the afternoon.   Orte Scalo is the end of the line for an hourly Rome area commuter train that, with seventeen stops, goes all the way through Rome then beyond to terminate at Rome Fiumicino Airport.  We took our bicycles apart and carried them onto the train for the two hour ride.  From there we took an Uber to an Airbnb near the airport.

Fiumicino is a beach town and has at least one really good seafood restaurant, Ristorante Sfizi di Mare.   If you ask they will serve, for a flat charge, a meal of seafood appetizers, dozens of dishes brought one after the other.    Sicilian seafood salad was just one of many.


It made a pleasant final Italian meal before our outgoing flights the next morning.



For the past few years l have been hearing about Kentucky from mine and Tootie’s Chapel Hill NC friend Maxine Mills, who hails originally from the Bluegrass State.    Previously all I had known about Kentucky were caricatures from the media.   The first forty seconds of this upcoming clip are the best.

My friend Dan and I knew very little about Kentucky when we wrote this song two or three years ago, words and tune by Dan Anderson, musical arrangement and guitar accompaniment by me.

Tootie and I had been very cordially invited to accompany Maxine and her relatives to a high-end horse race in Lexington, KY the first week of April.    I used to opportunity to fly to Lousville four days early and bicycle by myself across the middle of the state, from Louisville to Lexington.

I bought a one way ticket, checking my Bike Friday folding bicycle as luggage.   I took the advice of my friend Harvey Botzman and used a disposable cardboard box.  At 11:00 AM on a Monday morning I put the bicycle together in the baggage claim area of the Louisville airport.


Ready to go.


I cycled away from the airport and into the city.   My first stop was to visit a first cousin that I seldom see.    Dawn McMillion and her husband Paul recently sold their restaurant in Seattle WA and moved to Louisville KY.  They bought into a business that has a distillery and Prohibition museum with a separate bar next door.





We took a selfie.


Dawn and I walked down Baxter Avenue for lunch.   Taco Luchador definitely had its game on and we had a great time catching up with each other’s lives.   After lunch we walked back to the bar and I left Dawn to bicycle Louisville.   Unfortunately the cold, or something, that I had caught a few days earlier was really wearing at me.   I was sick, I needed to lie down.    This break ultimately helped me out;  by the afternoon of the next day I felt almost normal again.   I cycled over to my Airbnb a few blocks away.

It was in the back of a shotgun house.   For $ 72.00 including tax the owners had really gone all out.  They even provided me all sorts of food for breakfast, including fresh fruit and homemade jams.


I collapsed onto the bed and chilled for several hours.   Ultimately I got up and walked to find dinner.  My Airbnb was on the Wrong Side of the Tracks from anywhere to eat.   I had to walk through an underpass.


A place called Hammerheads is in the basement of a house and specializes in what I would call hipster barbecue.   I got something called a pork belly BLT.  I asked for wine, which they do not have, only beer, but a huge selection.    The sandwich was greasy but delicious.


It was all good and I walked “home” in the semi-darkness.   I was already starting to feel better.


The next morning I cycled around the western side of Louisville before heading further out of town.    Louisville was a relatively large city in about 1900 and has its own architectural style.   Like New Orleans, there are block after block of shotgun houses, many with what New Orleans calls a camelback, a larger second story in the rear.   Unlike New Orleans, many of the Louisville shotgun houses are built of brick.   These three photos were all taken on the same street as my Airbnb.



Further west, away from downtown, the trend continues in the more prosperous neighborhood called Highlands.

In Highlands there are shotgun houses but also larger Victorians.  These houses go on block after block.



Maxine’s brother Russell Mills is a building contractor, sculptor, British car enthusiast, and all around good guy.   He lives on one of these blocks, the house at the right side of this photo.


Moving further west the houses get even bigger.


The house on the right is for sale for $ 880,000.00

There was a traffic circle that stylistically reminded me of Monument Avenue in Richmond VA.   This all must have been built about the same time, 1890-1900.   There was even a large statue of Confederate war “hero” John Breckinridge Castelman.   (Remember, Kentucky was supposed to have been on the side of the Union in that war!)   The statue has apparently been recently defaced.


I biked west. Louisville suburbs go west for almost twenty miles.   In the “town” of Hurstbourne, there are houses obviously built about 1960 with street upon street named from Robin Hood themes.   I mention this because both my wife’s hometown of Winston-Salem NC and my almost hometown of Norfolk VA have a Sherwood Forest Elementary school, surrounded by houses and streets of the same period with the same Robin Hood theme; houses in that early sixties style I really dislike: “colonial ranch.”   Here in Hurstbourne KY it was the same.


Up to this point I had seen nothing in Kentucky that indicated that horses were an important thing.   Passing through the Louisville suburbs into the countryside I started to see horse statues that anywhere else in America would be written off as kitsch.



I spent the night “in” Shelbyville KY, but really in a motel on the highway, three miles from downtown Shelbyville.   There was no place to stay in downtown Shelbyville, not even an Airbnb.    This Best Western was clean, spacious, and low cost, but the four lane highway vibe did not feel accommodating to a bicyclist.   There was a Waffle House across the street.


I had a decision.   Meals are important to me.  Really.   Should I bicycle three miles into downtown Shelbyville for a likely just O.K. dinner at a local restaurant, and then have to bicycle back on a highway in the dark?   Or should I bicycle just three quarters of a mile the other direction to the chain steakhouse at the Interstate highway interchange?    Yes, I am a food snob.   But after showering and recovering from the day’s ride, I chose the chain restaurant at the Interstate highway with a Texas theme: Cattleman’s Roadhouse.

It is easier to eat at the bar when solo dining.   The bar area of Cattleman’s Roadhouse was almost all guys.   There were lots of TV’s to watch.

You could even watch TV while you peed.

The dinner at this chain restaurant was almost perfect.  Salmon, cooked rare like I asked but not at all smelly or slimy, topped with a sweet “bourbon” sauce, and rice pilaf and green beans.   All delicious.   $ 17.95.    I could not have asked for more.   The local cable channel right-wing news accompanied my dinner.


It was mostly dark when I bicycled back to the motel along the highway.   I felt good, relaxed.

The next morning I bicycled further west and finally got to see downtown Shelbyville KY.



There was a modernist fire & rescue headquarters.


There was a perfectly preserved 1940’s-50’s gas station, just waiting for someone to adapt something to it.


In a dramatic change from the day before, this day’s cycling was chill, on country roads where a car would pass only every five or ten minutes.



And I discovered actual horse country!    Fences everywhere!



I am not knowledgeable about horses.  I thought they always stood up.   I guess not.

Frankfort is a small city that also happens to be the capital of the state of Kentucky.   I bicycled into Frankfort in time for a late lunch at Kentucky Coffeehouse Cafe.  I got their bean soup and chicken salad on croissant.



I stayed that night in the only hotel in downtown Frankfort and caught up on some reading.   Right near the place where I had eaten lunch I went out that evening to a combination fancy wine store, liquor store, and bar called Capital Cellars.   There was a convivial scene at the bar, and they encouraged me to buy takeout Mexican chicken down the street and bring that back for dinner.

There is obviously a lot of discussion in Kentucky about bourbon whiskey.  I waited until dessert to partake, when I sipped straight a half a shot of a higher end bourbon that the bartender recommended.


For my bike ride the next day I would need to be in Lexington KY by late afternoon to meet my wife Tootie and friend Maxine at her uncle’s house.    Because it was not very far I chose the circuitous route Frankfort /  Lawrenceburg / Lexington.

I first biked by the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Kentucky, from 1910, on a otherwise regular street in Frankfort of houses from that same era.


Out in the country just south of Frankfort, on a side road, I passed the privately run Josephine Sculpture Park.  Open to the public.


Once again biking was excellent, on seldom used back roads.


I had a nice lunch in Lawrenceburg.    Later in the afternoon I headed out for the final twenty miles to Lexington.   There were all sorts of interesting things along the way.



Lexington and its surrounding county clearly have strict land use controls, as the final twelve miles to Don Mill’s house were all through pristine horse farms.

I am not going to attempt on this blog to document everything we did in Lexington with Maxine, her uncle Don Mills, brother Russell Mills, and all their relatives.    They showed us wonderful hospitality.   The next day Friday was the opening day at the Keeneland race course in Lexington.    Everyone was dressed up.   We all had a great time wagering, eating, and drinking.   It was fun to walk around and look at people.  These photos are of people I do NOT know.



The next day Tootie, Maxine, my bicycle, and myself all drove seven hours back to Chapel Hill NC.

$148.00 round trip nonstop (including luggage) from Raleigh/Durham to Fort Lauderdale on a decent airline (Southwest) was too good a deal to pass up.   It had been cold and rainy in North Carolina.   I could have two full days of bike riding down there with only one night in a hotel, because the departure flight was early in the morning and the returning flight was not until the evening.   I find South Florida fascinating but I prefer it in very small doses!

Also, I love trains.  I wanted to go to South Florida to check out Brightline.   No one but me seems excited about Brightline, which is in the process of changing its name to Virgin Trains.   While I am a big supporter of Amtrak, riding Amtrak is depressing.   Maybe because conservatives have been trying to kill Amtrak for forty-five years, workers and management seem exhausted.   With constant budget fights long range Amtrak financial planning is almost impossible.  When riding Amtrak the whole system seems befuddled.

Brightline is trying something else; an intercity passenger rail line done completely as a private business.    Their plan is to make this train financially viable the way railroads did in the nineteenth century, with side deals in real estate.    Because of this I question whether Brightline’s model will be duplicated elsewhere.  Brightline is a spinoff of Jacksonville based Florida East Coast Railway.  FEC owns and operates high quality tracks from Miami north to Jacksonville.  A hundred years ago the downtowns of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach were essentially built around these tracks, and FEC apparently still owns a lot of prime real estate.    Because those three downtowns are currently in a building boom, Brightline is using its inner city location as selling point.   Live in downtown Fort Lauderdale without a car!   The plan is to operate trains all the way north to Orlando, which would require building a small section of new track.  The first portion, on existing track, has been operating ten trains a day Miami / Fort Lauderdale / West Palm Beach for about one year.   The FEC/Brightline tracks are parallel but better located than the tracks used for the existing Tri-Rail commuter trains that I have taken in the past.

I hatched a plan to fly into the Fort Lauderdale airport and upon arrival bicycle south twenty-five miles to Miami.   I would then take the Brightline that same afternoon from Miami north past Fort Lauderdale all the way to West Palm Beach.   I would spend the night around West Palm, then bicycle the next day the fifty miles south to Fort Lauderdale, and then fly home that same evening, without the opportunity to take a shower.   Press the plus sign to zero in on more detail.


The plane from Raleigh/Durham was scheduled takeoff at 6:50 AM.    I left mine and Tootie’s Chapel Hill apartment about 5:00 AM with the Bike Friday in a suitcase for the half hour drive to the airport.


I boarded the plane about 6:30 AM.

The plane arrived on time but it sat on the ground for a while, waiting for a gate to open up.   The luggage also took longer than necessary to show up.   I then walked with the suitcase down to the Delta terminal where there is a luggage storage business.   I spread my stuff around and put the bicycle together before checking the empty suitcase.   It was about 11:00 AM when I was able to bicycle away from the airport.  The weather was perfect, it felt great to be alive and outdoors.


I bicycled through the north Broward County towns of Dana and Hollywood, riding on residential streets as much as possible.  I passed by these interesting buildings.