Travel in Europe is reasonably cheap, flights certainly are, as long as you book far enough in advance. Maaike and I weren’t quite sure what our plans were after Tuscany so we hadn’t booked anything. Flights back to NL were quite expensive. Trains are ridiculously expensive. However, if you’re Time rich, cash limited, Busses are a decent option. Eurolines seems pretty rubbish, but eventually came across “Flixbus“, a German company with a very good network and an easy to use app. It’s not a short trip from Florence to Roermond – about 20 hours or so by bus. Zurich however is nicely in the middle – and my friend Marcel lives there with his partner Chrisi – perfect opportunity for a visit.

Zurich is really nice actually. Very pretty, very expensive to live in. It has the biggest density of fountains of anywhere I’ve visited so far.

another zurich fountainanother zurich fountainanother zurich fountainanother zurich fountainanother zurich fountainanother zurich fountainanother zurich fountainanother zurich fountainanother zurich fountaindripfountain

It’s quite nice this relaxing travel, we came across a pianist and a flautist practising in a church, and just stayed to listen for a while. Lovely song – no idea what it is.

St Peters Church

We also had some quite decent thunderstorms while there. (could not see while driving! – we were the red dot in the weather map)

underexposed lightningmore lightning22-DSC_0473we were the red dotproperly raining.

I think I could live in Zurich, as long as I had a very well paid job! It has good access to the hills, a nice feel to it. It also has shops where you can spend 12K Euro on a watch. Probably a lot more than that if you want to. I thought about it, but the budget didn’t qqquuuuiiiitttteee stretch.

zurichmost excellent henspretty spiresrandomhehstreetplaying with reflection

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Familytime in Tuscany

After the NL party it was on to holiday in Tuscany. It’s a hard, hard life I lead. Flew into Pisa and quickly fixed up some legacy engineering issues.

set that one to rights.

Actually, the tower area is really cool, you can wander about for free which is quite nice. Of particular interest is the baptistery. Acoustically perfect, every 30 minutes a security guard comes in and sings a few notes cleverly calculated to achieve harmonics as they interfere with each other. Anyway, it’s hard to describe, just make sure if you’re ever in Pisa that you go to the baptistery, it’s free to go in if you’re praying.. Here’s a recording (not mine) – scroll to 1 minute 20 seconds..

After you’ve been into the baptistery, you can then go (not free) into the Cemetery. It has a statue of Fibonacci there, and the most horrific hell scene I’ve ever seen. Seriously graphic.

not sure what's going on here.vanity, it's a sinhellhellouchhell - flayinghellhell

From Pisa we drove to Barbarino Val D’elsa, a small village in Tuscany. My sister had picked out the place, and it really was superb. A “Palazzetto” (small palace) it was basically 4 houses combined into one. Massive. Liz had even worked out that the house would have the most killer view out over the countryside (something stupidly left out of the literature for the house… it would have been a main selling point if I was marketing it!)

more sunsetsunset from barbarino val d'elsa

Anyway, a week of exploring Tuscany, discovering the delights of “Vin santo and Cantuccini” (almond biscuity thingies dipped in a sort of desert wine), exploring Florence (Galileo museum and Uffizi), eating tonnes of ice-cream, finding a skeleton in a church and a wine tour (Chianti region)

rower in FlorenceUffizinyomyes, youmore ceilingsunset from barbarino val d'elsaceilingThe original hermaphroditedeceptivegrapesSaintly Figurelooks a bit like meponte vecchioexperimentsbig swirly thingyGalileo MuseumMore Domo29-DSC_0281

Oh, one final thing was the sculpture garden. I really enjoyed this one – called “Energy”

Energyjournalist tribute

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A couple of tips for bike touring navigation

These are instructions on how to take a google map and get it into a GPX file for use for offline navigation using OSMAND+ on an Android Phone.

  1. Go to Google Maps and get directions (choosing the biking option) between two points.
  2. Pull the route around finding the smallest roads you can!
  3. Click through to the “details” page for the route and copy the URL
  4. Paste the url into http://gpsvisualizer.com/convert_input choosing “gpx” as the output.
  5. Save the GPX into your Dropbox account (this is just to get the file onto your phone, there are lots of ways to do this, but Dropbox is the easiest)
  6. If you have an Android phone, install OSMAND+
  7. Go into Dropbox on your phone, and find the gpx file, click on it, and choose to save it as a track
  8. Then open up OSMAND and go into “Configure Map” -> “GPX track…”, then find your gpx track
  9. Finally just click on the navigation button and it should prompt you for “Do you wand to use the displayed map for navigation?” after that you’ll have offline directions on your chosen route – perfect.
  10. Specifically for the UK – the Sustrans website was handy. It shows bike routes around the UK. For the life of me I couldn’t see how to export a GPX of the route we did (route 4) eventually finding a sort-of export someone made from all the OpenStreetMap data. A very handy file which I can’t seem to find any more … however.. http://cycling.waymarkedtrails.org/#routelist seems to allow you to download some of them. Note however that sometimes route 4 splits in two.. so I’m not sure how that works on a GPX.

Do you have tips? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

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And back to Dublin

Then it was time for the final run to Dublin. Ireland seems pretty woeful from the point of view of nice bike-paths, at least from Rosslare to Dublin anyway. Google tried to route us on the N1 all the way, but there was a way more towards the Wicklow and Dublin mountains that we ended up taking. First day was a run up to Avoca (almost) and then the second day all the way back to Dublin.

sign to Dublin

We had our second day of rain on our way to Dublin, it felt good to be home ;). The hill in these pictures is “The Sugarloaf”. In Maori culture there’s an introduction people do, called the mihi. As a part of this you talk about your mountain, the Sugarloaf would definitely be mine, I forget the number of times we hiked up it as kids.

my mountain - the sugarloaf

Anyway, finally we made it back to Dublin. All the family was there (my sister’s family was over from the US). It was lovely to complete the trip successfully. I’d happily go bike-touring again, it was lots of fun :)

back on my brothers car

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