Category Archives: europe

Ireland & London

A week before I left on the trip, 16 inches of rain fell on Austin and flooded the control tower of the airport. Flights the following week were still delayed. After sitting at the airport for one day, I decided I’d rather wait at Dulles for 9 hours than risk another day at AUS. Since the part of the National Air and Space Museum is minutes away from Dulles, I left the airport to check out the museum.

SR-71 Blackbird at the Udvar-Hazy Center by Dulles

My colleagues Judith and Jen took to the opportunity to visit Dublin before heading to Cork. We checked out the Book of Kells exhibit as well as the Jameson distillery. Our train to Cork was boisterous due to a Dublin-Cork rugby (?) match earlier that day.

The library at Trinity College, Dublin

In London, we went to the Ai Weiwei exhibit one evening. I was blown away by his work.

Straight, Ai Weiwei Exhibit
3000 Crabs, Ai Weiwei Exhibit
Bike Chandelier, Ai Weiwei Exhibit
View of Greenland at 35K feet

Former Ottoman Empire: Albania & Istanbul

We booked another tour with Far & Away Cycling, this time to Albania. As it turns out, Turkish Airlines had a massive fare sale for our dates, and the cost to fly from Houston to Tirana to Istanbul back to Houston was only $800! I normally hate flying from Houston (or Dallas), but this fare saved us over $400 per person, so I agreed to make the drive.

The drive to Houston took forever. It rained the whole way. There was a lot of traffic. Ugh. Aside from the drive to Houston, it was a fairly uneventful flight, and I sat next to a young couple on their first trip to Europe.

Day 1

We took a long bus transit out of Tirana and started near the border with Macedonia. Since the previous dictator was paranoid, bunkers littered  the mountainside. We cross the border into Macedonia and had lunch on Lake Ohrid. When we rode around the lake, I got dropped at the climbs and took some photos. I met up with the group again by the split to the monastery and did a short tour with them.

Bunker along Lake Ohrid
Monastery of Saint Naum

We crossed the border back into Albania and stayed at a hotel on the lake.

Lake Ohrid
View of fishermen in the morning

Day 2: Korce

We took an easy ride out of Korce and saw gorgeous farmlands. Just as the tempo picked up, it started to rain and hail. We ducked into the gas station to wait out the storm. As soon as we got started again, another hail storm rolled in. We skipped lunch and did the bonus miles to the monastery in Vostepoje. The roads were rough on the way to the climb and the climbs were steep. I was so glad to get to the top. Since the monastery was closed, we rode back down in the lightening and rain. I loved the disc brakes on the bike.


Day 3: Trout Farm

Of course, there was a long climb out of Korce. After a long downhill to a coffee stop, we did some fast riding to lunch. Being a roadie, I crashed on some bumps going out of town. I cleaned out the rocks while my adrenaline was flowing and got back on the bike. We  went up more climbs with rocky descents and then did a really long climb to the trout farm. I lost my mojo after the crash, so the descents were just brutal. The trout farm was relaxing. It was isolated and quiet, and we had amazing trout for dinner.

Day 4: Benje

As the pattern goes, we climbed out of the trout farm. We saw Armand’s (the ride leader’s) land and then descended through the gorge. It was a crazy bumpy downhill on torn up roads. The scenery was gorgeous, but without my mojo, the descent was hell.

We did the extra mileage to go to the Greek border and time trialed to catch up with the other folks. We did sprint attacks on the way back. At the much needed coffee stop, we chatted with some Belgians. They were quite surprised Americans were biking around Albania. We climbed more hills with rough roads to Benje. There, we had an amazing lunch with roasted lamb.

That afternoon, we biked to the hot springs with more rough road. Instead of getting into warm water, I hiked through river bed and soaked my legs in cold water.


Day 5: Girocaster

The group started the day riding together until our coffee stop at Permet. After coffee, the pace picked up,  and I learned to downshift on rough roads to add some power and smooth out the ride. We rode through a gorgeous valley and picked up honey at the lunch stop. The ride to Girocaster was rainy with dreadful headwinds. I tucked into a pace-line until the steep climb into Girocaster. After cleaning up, we toured an old house and castle and sat at the city corner for “happy hour.” The dinner was incredible with melted cheese and sweet pumpkin byrek.

Some fisheye fun atop the Girocaster castle
In an American fighter plane atop Girocaster castle (scarf and sunglasses added later)

Day 6: Sirande (coastal town)

Of course, the group did the extra mileage to the start with a flat, tailwind assisted ride to the climb. The climb was long, yet doable. I caught up to Janice, and found out her competitive nature. The descent was winding, but fun.

We took a short ferry to Butrint, and toured the grounds. After lunch, we had a long, undulating climb and descent. I pulled my companions into Sarande and promptly got lost. We finally found hotel. I felt a bit of overtraining at dinner and went to bed.

View of Corfu from Butrint
View from hotel room at Sarande

Day  7: Hiram

I took the first climb out of Sirande a bit hard. At the coffee stop in the mountains, a sweet old lady patted my head and talked to me. I clearly had no idea what she was saying. After the stop, we took it really easy. Roman left his camera on the side of the road and had to go back for it at lunch. After Roman found his camera on the side of the road (!), we toured the Venetian fortress.

When we finally arrived in Haram, it was hot. I quickly changed into bathing suit and headed to the beach. The beach was a bit rocky, but the water was nice and cold.

Day 8: Vlore

We climbed out of Himare and then started a steep climb. I caught up with Janice, and we stopped at the gorgeous overlook coffee shop. We climbed through the town and wondered when the climb of the day started. When we rounded the corner, we saw the climb above us. We climbed, climbed, and climbed. It started sprinkling on us, and I got cold. At the top, I took as selfie with Janice. Armand arrived and took us through the cold descent. At lunch, I could barely warm up, and I seriously thought about jumping into the car for the rest of the day. I soldiered on. When Janice decided to stop to put up her hood, I went on and ended up riding the rest of the way into Vlore by myself. The hotel was isolated resort on the water with nice beach chairs. I spent the afternoon in the sun relaxing

Day 9: back to Tirana

We took a brutal bus transport back to Tirana and hung out at the hotel. I had Merlut (small fish) for dinner and went to the Brauhaus with Adriene, Bob and Roman to close out the trip.


We saw the touristy sights in Istanbul: Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, and Bosphorus cruise. My favorite memories were eating: breakfasts in a dive joint and fresh sour cherry and pistachio Turkish delight.


Hagia Sophia
Topkapi Palace

Nice & Monaco GP

After riding through Corsica, we took the ferry from Bastia to Nice. Since the cycling tour ended at just the right time, we were able to stay in Nice and ride the train to Monaco the day of the Monaco F1 GP.

View of Nice’s coast
View from the stands at the Grand Prix de Monaco

We flew home through Madrid. The airport is gorgeous, and I had my first taste of the amazing Jamón Ibérico.

Madrid Airport
Jamón ibérico


Day 1 – Bastia to St Florent

A bit nervous to start since I wasn’t as fit as I was in 2012, and the Croatia tour was really tough. The Croatia tour had lots of steep grades that went on and on and on.


We started off easy with a pretty flat ride with tail wind on the Eastern coast until lunch. After lunch, we followed the “cap course” path and cut through the center of the island. After some time, we started climbing (to get to the other side of the island). It was relatively long, but very manageable. At some point, we took the “high road.”  It was very narrow with few cars. Impressively, most managed to stay on their side of the narrow road. During this section, we had to navigate a herd of goats.

The high road didn’t last forever, so we had to rejoin the major road (D81) on the west coast. The designated stop was Nanza, which I should see across the valley. With all the bends and turns, it was still miles away. With the wind swirling in the bends, it took forever to get there.  After Nanza, we had headwind for a bit. As soon as we turned, we had a downhill with a tailwind into St Florent.

Day 2 – St Florent to Calvi

Since we got started after the other folks on the trip, we rode with Bob (the tour leader). After the town, we started climbing. We expected a headwind into the mountain, but we had a nice tailwind help us up. As we headed up, we look back on St Florent in the bay. All along the way, we could see rock formations. During the descent, we saw a busload of riders (including tandems with blind riders in the back) about to start their day. As we ascended into Belgodere, we could see it from several bends away. We also saw another town in the distance.


After a long lunch stop, we headed to that other town.  As soon as we passed through it, the rain started to pout. I decided to ascend the big climb of the day and pass on the descent on the rough roads. I climbed into the warm van and saw the scenic views from the inside.

Calvi had a nice citadel and port.

Day 3 – Calvi to Porto

We got an even later start out of Calvi. We wanted the laundry to dry took our time. According to Lonely Planet, the ride from Calvi to Porto is one of the most beautifull rides, and I wholehearted agree. We did rollers on the coastline, descended into a valley and rode back out to the coast. The road surface started off nice and then got awful for a long stretch. I started hoping to uphills to ease the strain on my back and hands.

After we crossed a bridge, the pavement finally got better. We had lunch right before our climb. It was a nice, gradual climb. We would see a point on the other side of the valley and go through multiple bends before reaching it. We were rewarded with a lovely view at the summit.


We then had a nice descent with wide roads. We had stunning views after each bend. My legs finally felt good, so I added some effort to the climbs. On one of the narrow climbs, a bus got stuck trying to pass a car.



Day 4 – Porto to Ajaccio 

We climbed out of Porto and stopped for a tour of the rock gardens. [Wind, erosion] formed these rocks over time, and we spent about 45 minutes hiking through the rocks.

After exploring the rocks, we continued the climb to the top.  As with the other days, the views were gorgeous, and we could see the coastline to the right. We descended on the inside of the island with wide empty roads and lovely views. We even got to navigate through a smaller herd of goats. We did some rollers back to the coast and went through several quaint villages. I could smell food wafting through the town in these villages, and I was counting down the miles to lunch. We stopped at a beachside restaurant in Sagone. I was particularly excited that there was an egg on my lunch pizza!  After Sagone, we climbed a bit (with the sun upon us) before descending into Ajaccio. I was so tired after the efforts, the heat and the five course traditional meal at Restaurant 20123 that I fell asleep right after dinner.

Day 5 – Ajaccio to Evisa 

Today was the “queen stage” for the trip. Tons of climbing, and not very much mileage to do so (6300 ft in 43 miles). We climbed out of Ajaccio and ran into the same construction/gravel from yesterday. I got through a few sections of gravel, but ended up walking the looser bits. (Need to mountain bike more to get used to loose surfaces). We climbed out of the pass going in the other direction to Sagone and grabbed a quick bite to eat at the bakery. No one really wanted to do the big climb on a full stomach.

The climb could be broken into two parts: Sagone to Vico and then Vico to the summit. For the first part, we had plenty of shade and the sun was hidden behind the clouds. I kept myself in low zone 4 on the ride up to Vico, but right after Vico the pitch went up to the 14-15% gradient. My heart rate skyrocketed, and with the sun beating down on me, I had trouble keeping my heart rate low(er). Towards the end of the climb, I just wanted to stop. In fact, I was going so slowly, the Garmin auto-paused itself ($%@# !!!).  I saw what I hoped was the summit, but didn’t dare hope too much in fear of disappointment. Thankfully, Chantal drove the van pass me and told me it was the end! I kept moving, and voila! I was done with the climb.

We waited a bit for others at the summit, so we had time to hang out with the pigs.

We decended a bit and had to go back uphill to the hotel in Evisa. In Evisa, we sae hikers (presumably doing the GR20 hike) walk into town.

Day 6 – Evisa to Bastia 

The day started off with a delicious breakfast at the bakery in town. After breakfast, we climbed out of Evisa to the top of the Col de Vergio at 1467 meters. The serene climb took us through an alpine forest, and we cleared the treeline close to the top. At the summit, we could see ski slopes across the valley.

To prepare for the long descent, we put on all our warm gear: armwarmers, kneewarmers, jackets, long-fingered gloves. Even so, I was too cold. We had a nice coffee stop and then descended through the magnificent Golo Gorge.


After the gorge, there was a nice bit of pavement, so we picked up the pace to lunch. After lunch, clouds threatened to rain, so we made short work of the distance back to Bastia. I was exhausted from holding pace for so long and was relieved to see the Chez Walter to end the trip.

Corsica Thoughts

If you ever do a tour of Corsica:

  • Make sure you do a tour that rides through the west coast from North to South. You’ll want to look over and see the gorgeous coastline.
  • Make sure you descend through the Golo Gorge. You don’t want to ascend through it with the traffic.

Travel notes 

  • TMobile rocks. My cousins didn’t have TMobile, and it was a bit difficult to communicate with them when we were separated.
  •  Bring conditioner. It’s not offered in many hotels, and leave in condition doesnt cut it
  • Pack warm layers and rain gear. Quality gear is expensive overseas.
  • Be careful with your passport. I’ve been a bit lax on this lately, but I’ll be more careful from now on.


After we went to the US Consulate to get my brother’s temporary passport, we spent the day taking it easy in Vienna: eating, shopping, catching up on lost sleep and visiting St. Stephen’s Cathedral.


Losing your passport overseas

Too early in the morning (and with too little sleep), we took the train from Budapest to Vienna. Unfortunately, since we were all passed out (and neglected to lock our luggage together), someone stole my brother’s bag with his passport in it. This put a wrench in the plans, and my brother and I didn’t make it over to Salzburg.

If you lose your passport overseas, here’s a quick explanation of what you need to do (the mobile version of the embassy page was a bit wordy and difficult to understand):

  1. File a police report
  2. Make an appointment with the local US Consulate Office (for US Citizen Services)
  3. Cancel credit cards
  4. Collect items needed for an emergency (or replacement) passport
    • Forms DS11 & DS64
    • Passport photos
    • Printouts (copies) of existing passport and driver’s license. A picture on your phone won’t cut it
    • Money (credit card, local currency or USD will work)
    • Anything else the local US Embassy/Consulate may require*  The local police pointed us to the US Embassy, which was out of the way. We were redirected to the US Consulate (near the tourist areas), which was already closed by that time.  Save some time and figure out the correct location and their hours (the Consultate was only open from 8 AM – 11:30 AM for Citizen Services).
Take a deep breath, and don’t stress too much about it. Don’t let it ruin your trip. I lost some sleep and missed out on some sightseeing due to lack of sleep. After reading stories on the web about passport theft and replacement horror stores, I think international travelers should pack the following:

  • Current passport photos (Saves money and time looking for a passport photo place. You can get them for < $10 a stack at Costco. That said, there’s usually a photo place near the US Consulate.)
  • An extra $135 (+ local currency) or credit card for emergency use. This process is much more difficult if you don’t have money to pay for the passport or for printouts, passport photos, etc.
  • 1-2 copies of the passport’s picture page (as well as a snapshot on the phone/ in email inboxes)

Pest – day 4

After getting some nice rest, we set about on a hike around Gellert Hill. With no specific plan nor map, we visited several scenic areas. We got a bit lost trying to get to the Citadel. Unfortunately, both the monument and Citadel were closed for repairs.


Gellert HIll
Gellert Hill
Gellert HIll
Gellert Hill
Gellert HIll
Gellert Hill 
Gellert Hill
Gellert Hill
Gellert Hill
Gellert Hill
We had a nice Italian dinner at Tony George’s Italiano Etteram with a view of the Basilica and headed over to the Jewish Quarter for a live action puzzle game, the Diamond Heist. They’re very popular in Budapest, and as luck/skill/whatnot would have it, we came close to the record time. Not bad for our first try. (Team Chatty Cathy Cousins with a time of 39:33).

Diamond Heist @
Diamond Heist @

Pest – day 3

Panorama at the top of Saint Stephen's Basilica
Panorama at the top of Saint Stephen’s Basilica

After an action packed day, we took an easy day. We shopped, ate and visited St. Stephen’s Basilica. 

Sarah at Saint Stephen's Basilica
Sarah at Saint Stephen’s Basilica
Up to the top of Saint Stephen's Basilica
Up to the top of Saint Stephen’s Basilica


We woke up early and headed to the Central Market. We spent the next couple of hours eating buying souvenirs. The strawberries from the market were the best we ever had, and we went through 6.5 lbs of strawberries in 2 days.

Strawberries at Central Market
Strawberries at Central Market
Souvenirs at Central Market
Souvenirs at Central Market

After taking an midday siesta, we dragged ourselves out to see the Parliament Building, City Park, Heroes Square and the Jewish Quarter.

Hide & Go Seek at City Park
Hide & Go Seek at City Park
I'm there for you
“I’m there for you”
One of the oldest metro lines in Europe
One of the oldest metro lines in Europe



My flight over to Budapest was filled with delays. I waited on the tarmac for two hours in Houston waiting for weather to pass, and then the flight from London to Budapest had even more delays. Even with the delays, I did get breakfast with my friend Graham during my long layover at Heathrow.

A few hours after we landed, we headed to a “Sparty” at Szechenyi Baths. While the concept is cool (club night at a bath), the boy/girl ratio was a bit off and it was filled with tourists. The next morning, we cross the Chain Bridge to Buda to see the Royal Palace, St Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion.

Crossing the Chain Bridge
Crossing the Chain Bridge
Sarah & Christine in cow costume
Meeting the locals
Fisherman's Bastion
Fisherman’s Bastion
Saint Matthias Church
Saint Matthias Church