Category Archives: Travel

I Left My Heart in Sacramento

Dick may be drawn to the old port town of Alviso, but I have an unexplained attraction to Sacramento. Maybe it’s because it’s a state capital along a big river, just like my home town of Baton Rouge. Or maybe it’s because they’re both overshadowed by more glamorous sister cities–San Francisco and New Orleans.

What I do know is that when I heard that the North American Handmade Bicycle Show was coming to Sac, I didn’t hesitate to put it on the calendar even though we visited Sacramento less than a year ago.

Like last year, we took the Amtrak Capital Corridor train, riding our bikes from home to the station and bringing the bikes with us on the train. Like last year, we stayed downtown at the historic Citizen Hotel, went to dinner on a bike date that included a night cruise around the city, rode out to Folsom on the American River Bike Trail, and saw California citizens speaking up by marching on the capitol. But I enjoyed every minute of it. Some things never get old, even in Old Sacramento. (And the bikes at the NAHBS were gorgeous!)

What city or place do you like to visit that never gets old no matter how many times you visit? What makes it so special?

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Posted by on March 9, 2012 in Travel


Bike Date Friday: Dining with the Queen

The good news came while we were in Southern California–I got an offer for a full-time job! The company is top notch, the people I’d met were cool, the compensation outstanding and their location in San Jose is within biking distance from home. I didn’t have to think long before I accepted.

To celebrate, Dick and I splurged on dinner at Sir Winston’s on the Queen Mary. Restaurants in tourist destinations usually don’t have the best in food and are often pricey, but Sir Winston’s got great ratings on Yelp. Plus we wanted to tour the ship anyway. So I made dinner reservations on OpenTable and rushed down to the Queen Mary ticket office and booked passage on the Twilight Tour later that evening.

As darkness fell, we slapped lights on our rental bikes and cruised a short half mile down the waterfront path. The air and water were surprisingly still–all the better for reflecting the lights from the city. We found the well-hidden bike rack and took the elevator up to the promenade deck to start our tour.

With her maiden voyage at the height of the Great Depression, the Queen Mary symbolized the grand life and sleek sophistication at a time when few could afford such luxury. During World War II she served her country ferrying troops across the ocean to fight for the Allied forces, carrying to up to 16,000 people in a trip–more than six times greater capacity than in her peacetime voyages.

After oohing and aahing the beautiful wood paneling, furniture and fixtures and watching children’s eyes grow wide during the ghost stories, we headed up a metal flight of stairs to an upper deck for dinner at Sir Winston’s. It was old school elegant with a glorious view and utterly divine. The perfect way to celebrate.

How do you like to celebrate the big days and happy occasions in your life? A fancy dinner, an expensive trip, a big party or simply a quiet evening with friends?

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About Bike Date Friday: Since September 2010, my husband and I have had a standing date every Friday night. We eat at a different place every week and arrive by bike. There’s no better way to end the work week.


Posted by on March 2, 2012 in Bike Date, Travel


The Most Bicycle Friendly City in America

When a city aspires to be “the most bicycle friendly city in America” and it’s not Portland, Minneapolis or San Francisco, you have to check it out. Since I was down in Southern California for a professional conference, Dick and I stayed over for the weekend in Long Beach to see if there was a glimmer of reality behind this lofty goal. And the beach is always fun in the off-season.

Knowing little about Long Beach, we chose a hotel located on the waterfront with a bike path connecting it to downtown and hoped for the best. When the waiter at the hotel restaurant casually mentioned how nice the weather was on his commute along the beach, I knew we had hit the jackpot. The hotel rented bikes at $25/day, but waiter Kelly declared them junk and recommended renting from the Bikestation instead. That’s service.

The next morning we walked the mile to the Bikestation Long Beach, the founding location of 24/7 facilities for storing and repairing bikes, plus lockers and showers for bike commuters in a half dozen cities, including nearby Palo Alto. It only took a few minutes before the gruff mechanic warmed to us, gave us a military discount on a couple of city bikes (33%!) and sent us off with brunch recommendations that I’m sure waiter Kelly would not have approved of.

Colorful characters on bikes, whimsical bike racks and a cool new vintage bike shop. Well-designed separated bike lanes with bike-only signals, beach paths, river paths and patient, friendly motorists. Long Beach has the makings of a great bicycle-friendly city. Will it be the most friendly in America? Perhaps, but only if Portland, Minneapolis and San Francisco don’t find out.

What makes a city bicycle friendly to you? If you could do one thing to make your city more bicycle friendly, what would it be?

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Posted by on February 29, 2012 in Around Town, Issues & Infrastructure, Travel


Glamour on Two Wheels: Hollywood Stars on Bikes

“What Hollywood did for smoking, Hollywood also did for bicycling,” said Steven Rea to introduce his book, Hollywood Rides a Bike, a collection of glamorous photos of stars on bicycles. As a big fan of the vintage photos on his Tumblr blog, I was excited to read that he was publishing the collection and that he would be promoting the book in Los Angeles while I was in town for a conference. The stars were aligned indeed!

The signing was at Book Soup on the famous Sunset Boulevard, less than three miles from our hotel. If had bikes to ride like the stars in the book, it would have been a delightful 20 minute ride through Beverly Hills into West Hollywood. Instead, it was a 45 minute slog down Santa Monica Boulevard at rush hour, including circling the block twice before giving in and paying $10 to park in a lot. Welcome to LA.

Before a small group of enthusiasts, Rea described how his two passions–bikes and film–ignited into a quest for old photos and detective work to identify the bikes with scant details. How did he and his vintage bike geek friends recognize a 3-speed Sturmey Archer hub from a faded black and white photo?

My favorites were the candid shots taken on the back lots where the stars rode studio bikes to get from sound stage to sound stage, or goofed around on during breaks in the shooting. Like Lauren Bacall taking a coffee break sitting on a studio bike. Or James Stewart with Grace Kelly riding his top tube during the filming of Rear Window. Or Anthony Perkins and Ray Walston playing bike polo, batting a tin can with wooden canes.

Other photos were promotional shots, like Steve McQueen on a turn-of-the-century safety bike, 7-year-old Shirley Temple beaming as she rode without training wheels or Rin Tin Tin riding on a beach cruiser in Malibu, front paws planted firmly on the handlebars. I would go on, but the review is never as good as the book.

Which glamorous movie star would you like to see on a bike? Which would you like to be?

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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Travel


Las Vegas by Bike

For most cities we visit, we rent bikes to get around town. But Las Vegas? Uh, no. With city planners who believe in eight lane arterials everywhere and quarter mile superblocks, Las Vegas is the ultimate car city. So no city bikes for us. And after a walk to the drugstore a block and a half from the hotel that took 20 minutes each way, we resigned ourselves to taking taxis. By far the easiest way to get around Vegas.

To get our bike fix in and to get away from the smoke of the casinos and the ever-present ding-ding-ding of the slot machines, we headed out to the desert. Las Vegas may not be known for the great outdoors, but it really should be. The desert is worth a trip to Vegas, even if you hate gambling, drinking and late nights.

For our first desert trip we rented a Harley from Eagle Riders. Since both Dick and I had driven out to Hoover Dam and Red Rock Canyon on previous trips, we took the advice of their friendly staff and rode the Valley of Fire and Lake Mead loop. I can’t describe the striking landscapes and deep color of the rock formations in this valley. Let’s just say the Valley of Fire is the best kept secret in the southwest. Simply amazing.


The next day we switched bikes and deserts with a trip to Cottonwood Valley in Red Rock Canyon park. Through Escape Adventures, we took a half day mountain bike tour on rocky, sometimes technical singletrack. Riding the dirt in the desert was a completely new experience. We were both a bit unsure of how to approach the loose, rocky trails on unfamiliar bikes with tires overfilled to prevent pinch flats. But the weather was perfect, the views amazing and we both dodged the rocks well enough to come away without drawing blood.


Note: I took video during both bike trips, but I was sorry to discover they were much shakier than usual. In the Cottonwood Valley video, the cause was a rocky trail. Maybe I should invest in a chest mount for my GoPro. In the Valley of Fire video, the problem was rough chip-seal pavement and wind bouncing my iPhone around. So I captured some stills from my video and included them in the slideshow.

Las Vegas: love it or hate it? Would you head for the casinos or head for the desert?

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Posted by on January 10, 2012 in Dirt Trails, Travel


A Saturday Afternoon Trip to San Francisco

Who needs an official “staycation” when you’ve got a free afternoon and you live only 35 miles from a world-class tourist destination? On Saturday, Dick and I grabbed our bikes and hopped on the Caltrain’s “baby bullet” weekend service and headed to San Francisco. One of my favorite bike manufacturers, Public Bikes, was having its holiday party and I was curious to see what new bikes and accessories they might have in stock.

What we found was a delectable new assortment of colors for their highly approachable city bikes, some new bike panniers inspired by the Clarjis ones I bought in Amsterdam, and some really interesting books. I came out of there with an iPhone mounting bracket that has a few kinks I wasn’t able to work out in the five minutes I spent installing it on the sidewalk.

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After the party, the plan was to shop at bit at Union Square, or at least check out the window displays. It is the Christmas season after all. But once we started rolling down the Embarcadero we didn’t want to stop. We cruised past the Bay Bridge, the Ferry Building, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Marina, and ended up at Fort Ross underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. I brought my little GoPro helmet camera, which created a bit of a stir among the tourists and natives alike, including a “thumbs up” from a limo passenger.

But the only interesting footage I got was a short piece down Lombard Street, the “world’s crookedest street.” We were disappointed to find the tourists were out in force even in the off season, so we had to share the narrow, twisty street with too many cars to be fun. It was hardly worth the steep climb to get up to the top, especially when you’re grunting up a 20% grade next to a pickup truck belching diesel-fumes. Blech!

Still, it was a great and inexpensive to spend the day as tourists in what’s practically our own back yard.

What’s your favorite tourist activity near your home? Are you saving money by taking a “staycation” this year?

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Posted by on December 18, 2011 in Travel


48 Hours in London with a Brompton Bike

As excited as I was to find bikes for hire in London, I wheeled my little Brompton foldie out of the shop with a bit of trepidation. After two full days in London, I still wasn’t comfortable with the left-hand driving traffic, even as a pedestrian. Even with the thoughtful “Look Left” and “Look Right” markings to warn continental Europeans and Americans, I was on alert each time I stepped into the roadway.

So there we stood with bikes in the bustling West End shopping district at twilight, 5 kilometers from our hotel in South Kensington. Since the Velorution bike shop was only a few blocks from the Oxford Circus station, we considered taking the underground, but once we got rolling we didn’t want to stop. With a set of left turns around the block to avoid a difficult right turn we were rolling down Oxford Street surrounded by double-decker buses and black cabs. Too bad I didn’t have my GoPro helmet camera to capture the excitement.

First stop the next day was the Tower of London. Since we got a late start, we carried the bikes on the underground and parked them on the street while we took a dramatic and gore-filled tour with a Beefeater guide, then walked up and down the endless stairs in the tower filled with armor, weapons and memorabilia of the long line of kings. We were dazzled by the exquisite crown jewels collection and amazed at the excessive decadence of items. My favorite was a gold tureen with a capacity of 144 wine bottles.

From the tower we began our 10 kilometer history tour of the city, viewing the iconic Tower Bridge (often mistaken for the London Bridge), then crossing the actual London Bridge (a completely ordinary bridge) over to the south bank of the river. There we rolled down cobbled lanes past Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the replica of the Golden Hind, the sailing ship of Sir Francis Drake. For my San Francisco Bay Area friends, that’s the explorer and the ship that claimed our area for the British crown in 1579 as “New Albion.” It didn’t stick.

After a late lunch at a surprisingly tasty burger joint near The Clink (yes, it’s a prison), we rode back across the Thames on Westminster Bridge in the fading light, stopping on its wide sidewalk to admire Big Ben, the Parliament buildings and the London Eye. Probably our best view of London at the perfect time of day.

The early 4 o’clock sunset meant that yet again we rode back to the hotel in the dark: braving a roundabout (yet again), getting disoriented in Hyde Park (yet again), and missing a turn onto the street that turns into Gloucester Road (yet again). In London, street names seem to change every quarter mile.

The next morning we headed out for more: a quick jaunt through Kensington Gardens, through Paddington and up to St Johns Wood in a pilgrimage to Abbey Road. While you need a map to find Abbey Road (aka Grove End Road aka Lisson Road), you don’t need a sign to find its famous crosswalk. The small crowd of tourists dodging traffic to recreate the photo from the Beatles’ album cover gives it away. Given that London drivers are not keen to stop for pedestrians, even in a crosswalk, getting a good photo requires careful timing.

Then it was another 5 kilometer tour across town through yet another park to return the bikes. Total cycling distance: 30 kilometers or 18.5 miles. Not high mileage, but enough to see a lot more of the city than we would walking or on the underground. We also got a good feel for how these little folding bikes perform, but that’s a post for another day.

Have you ever driven or cycled on the “wrong” side of the road? What was the hardest part for you?

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Posted by on November 27, 2011 in Travel


Fashion Friday: Call of the Wild in London

When you’re wearing a leopard print helmet from Sawako Furuno, you’ve got style no matter what else you’re wearing, or riding for that matter.



Posted by on November 25, 2011 in Cycle Fashions, Travel


Velorution Prevails Where Barclays Fails

For shame, Barclays! The London cycle hire program your bank sponsors discriminates against Americans, whose credit cards lack “smart card” chips. And unlike the Velib system in Paris where you can buy a day pass online, the Barclays bikes require a smart card at the kiosk. Are they afraid that hordes of right-side-driving Americans will be massacred by aggressive black cabs and lumbering double-decker buses? Could be.

Riding these bikes was in my Top 5 things to do in London, so I was really bummed. Even though I was pretty sure we were out of luck, I had to ask the folks at Velorution, a bike shop focused on city bikes I had read about. The owner, Andre, confirmed that you either need a smart card or they can issue you a special card, but you have to be a London resident. But, he offered, Velorution rents Bromptom folding bikes at a reasonable rate. Interesting. I had never ridden a foldie and was intrigued.

While we were thinking about whether and how long we wanted to hire the Bromptons, we browsed through the store’s wide selection of bikes and gear. Of all the city bike-oriented stores we’ve been to, Velorution is one of the biggest, on par with Clever Cycles in Portland, Oregon. They also offer mail order, which could prove useful in the future. I searched the large selection of panniers, hoping to find the elusive Fast Rider Congres Black Charm. They didn’t offer anything comparable, but Matt took the time to look it up online and suggested I talk with their bag buyer when she came in to the shop later that afternoon.

Dick was immediately drawn to the Pedersen bikes with their hammock saddles and unusual truss frames. He took one out for a spin around the block and declared it felt natural with a comfortable seating position, despite its unusual look. “You have no idea how much I want this bike,” he confided. His birthday is tomorrow, but I don’t think there’s room in my luggage for a Pedersen.

Meanwhile, I moved on to helmets and clothing, where I found a delightful leopard helmet that I just had to have. A girl can never have too many helmets, can she? And there, amidst the dapper tweed coats and capes and smart modern jackets, I found the elusive Brooks rain cape. Last year, I searched for months for an outlet to buy this very cape which had received rave reviews at Interbike. And here it was at long last, unfortunately after I already have a cycle-specific rain coat I picked up in Amsterdam.

We left the store with a leopard helmet for me and two Brompton foldies for the rest of our trip. The Bromptons fit both of us well and only took a bit of adjusting for the markedly twitchy front end. We pedaled away from the shop as the sun went down and so our bike adventures in London began.

How far will you go for bike accessories or equipment? Would you pay the extra overseas shipping and taxes for a unique item?

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Posted by on November 25, 2011 in Gear Talk, Travel


On Tradition: Foot Guards, Ghosts and the Queen

Tradition is a curious thing. Some cling to it with all their might, others feel compelled to break free. Unlike other European countries, England has held on to its royalty even as it gradually became a democracy. There was no equivalent of the storming of the Bastille. No royal heads rolled here and the Royal Family is still beloved by the British and their goings-on make the news worldwide.

Before we arrived, my Scottish co-worker Heather suggested a traditional English pub, the Grenadier. She said it would be hard to find, and my Google maps agreed, but we took on the challenge anyway. Heather was right. But we kept calm and carried on until we happened upon the little alley tucked behind the Luxembourg embassy, not far from Buckingham Palace. The Grenadier was indeed a find.

Built in 1720 as the Officers Mess for the first Royal Regiment of foot guards, also known as Grenadiers, it was frequented by the Duke of Wellington and King George the IV. For those not up on history (like me), the Duke of Wellington was the General who defeated Napoleon. What else I did not know was that the pub was haunted. Apparently, a young Grenadier was caught cheating at cards and the other soldiers gave him a such a severe beating that he died after seeking refuge in the pub’s cellar.

I’m happy to say our meals were fine, the beers were traditional English brews and there were no ghost sightings or other paranormal incidents. No “solemn, silent spectres were seen moving slowly across the low-ceilinged rooms” or “unseen hands rattle tables and chairs” or “low sighing moans heard emanating from the depths of the cellar.” I’m glad I didn’t know about the ghosts until after we left.

The next day we visited Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guards, along with several hundred other visitors. Much of the ceremony was over my head, but the pomp and circumstance–bearskin caps and plumed metal helmets and the marching regimental band–was intriguing, but IMHO a bit overrated. A lot of standing around for a minimal view.

We didn’t realize that the ceremony was dragging on longer than advertised because the Queen was heading out for a state meeting, interrupting the ceremony. The bobby stationed next to us gave us a quick warning “this would be good time for your camera” and out rolled the Queen in her Bentley with her entourage of motorcycle police. Even though she rolled right past me, I would never have known except for the noise from the crowd of women, which bore a striking resemblance to Angry Birds. If there was a royal wave, I missed it.

Where do you stand on tradition? Are queens and foot guards and elaborate ceremonies still meaningful for you? Or are they ghosts of a bygone era?

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Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Travel

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