India again. After 16 years.

In Bengaluru. A good introduction to India landing city for this trip.

Rich and I last traveled in India over 16 years ago. He and my friends will attest that I did not have a great time that last trip. As interesting and unique as I found the country, there were things younger me couldn’t get past. The inequality, for women and for those less fortunate. The crowds. The traffic. Never being left alone to enjoy anything in peace. The poverty. It was a lot.

A street in the neighborhood of Indiranagar where our hotel was. I think the large trees are Rain Trees. The shade they cast makes for a lovely cozy feel to the area. That is the metro line overhead.

I think many travelers and tourists are overwhelmed on their first trip to India. Why, friends asked, are you going back? Well, I replied, we were only in the north in our last trip and people say that North and South in India are as different as in the US. Our first good chat with a local gentleman at our first dinner in Bengaluru confirmed that. He went to North India once, he said, from his native Bengaluru, and it was so different. Like a different country. And, I’m older now, more mature, lots of grey hair. Less likely to attract negative attention. Ok, so I did have my hair dyed purple before leaving Bangkok which means no grey is showing, and I have bright purple hair. Attention? Yes. But it’s my fault this time.

Seriously amazing trees in Cubben Park.
The sidewalks in Bengaluru were so welcome after Bangkok’s limited walking space. And all the trees provide lovely cool shade. Green bike lanes, though we saw very few bikes using them.

So, can my older wiser self settle in to enjoy India more than I did 16 years ago? I think so. It helps that Rich is an enthusiastic traveler in addition to being the best travel planner. We both love experiencing a place as independently as possible. Walking and taking transit as much as we can keeps us happy. Our only taxi in Bengaluru was from the airport to our hotel. All other trips were metro and walking.

The War Memorial garden, floral tributes near the obelisk.
Chai at The Srirangam Cafe.
More tree shaded streets in our neighborhood of Indiranagar.
Riding the metro towards downtown.

Our last four hotels have all been within a block of a metro or subway line. Taipei, Taiwan, two different hotels in Bangkok, one above the MRT and one by the SkyTrain, and now Bengaluru, a block from a purple line station of the Metro. Not an accident, just good planning from Rich. We share a pretty healthy dislike of having to rely on taxis. Every car trip added to a city is a bad thing. For the air, for people’s safety, and for noise pollution. In India the noise is mostly of beeping horns, the scooters are quieter here than the motor bikes in Bangkok – thankfully. But the beeping! Incessant.

At the train station, just a short walk from the metro station.

Since I’m still recovering from breast reduction surgery Rich is carrying both backpacks. Thankfully, the train station connects to a metro stop with a dedicated walkway so for our train ride to Mysore we again avoided a taxi trip. To enter the metro system you have to put your bags through a scanner, and then be wanded by a security guard, men to one side and ladies to the other in a small curtained booth. My first time I actually stopped for the wanding, but my second time I followed the lead of the local in front of me who didn’t even break stride as she passed through the curtains.

All smiles waiting to board our first train. The platforms are very long but the carriage letters were showing on electronic signs so we knew where to wait.
Masked up. Our carriage was less than half full so we did unmask.

Our destination, Mysore, is less friendly to walking trips. For starters it’s hotter here, up to 90f/32c in the afternoon, and sidewalks are not standard. We feel a bit like square pegs in round holes, but we persevere, heading out in the morning to walk to what we can, and taking auto rickshaws back in the heat of the day.

Our first stepwell.

A friend in SF sent us a link to a map of step wells in India (thank you Gisela!), and we took a taxi to this one a bit outside of town. This is a fairly simple stepwell, many are much more ornate. Built to capture water and as temples, construction of these stepwells hit its peak during Muslim rule from the 11th to 16th century – per Wikipedia.

Nanneshwar Devasthana Kalyani
ನನ್ನೇಶ್ವರ ದೇವಸ್ಥಾನ ಕಲ್ಯಾಣಿ

Built in the 8th century this Kalyani, or stepwell, was cleared of garbage and restored in the past few years.

Rich added for scale.

Stepwell visit complete, we had our taxi driver head back towards town and drop us off to wait for the train museum to open. Sitting on a wall in the shade and watching Sunday morning activities was actually quite nice. On our last trip to India I don’t remember being able to sit unmolested by curious or begging locals. Here in Mysore, although there aren’t many tourists back yet, most folks walk by us with only a curious look (Rich is quite tall and I have purple hair, so not unexpected.), a smile, or an offer of an auto rickshaw.

One of favorite things, a small, quirky, somewhat overlooked museum.
An Indian built carriage.
A British built locomotive.

It pains me to be reminded that so much of the history tourists are encouraged to see and celebrate in India is colonial history. The railway has its roots in British rule. From an article by The Wire.IN “Between 1850 and 1910, 94% of Indian broad gauge locomotives were built in Britain and only 2.5 in India. During the Second World War, preconditions for purchases from outside of Britain were relaxed but still the overall balance remained disproportionately tilted in favour of Britain. Thus, prior to independence in 1947, India imported 14,420 locomotives from Britain, built 707 itself and purchased 3,000 from other countries.” However, we were pleased to see what to us are very familiar planning presentations for the ongoing improvements and upgrades to Indian Rail.

Planning deck, anyone? As we well know with both our backgrounds in transportation- nothing happens without plans like these. We could both easily imagine the work that went into this, I’m showing you only 2 of probably 15 pages. Fellow bureaucrats unite. Let’s get it done.

Although Mysore requires more auto rickshaw trips we are managing to walk to some destinations in the morning. The zoo. The Mysore Palace – which is the second most visited attraction in India after the Taj Mahal, apparently.

The palace is lit up on Sunday evening, and it’s free to enter the grounds which means it’s a popular family attraction.
The moon was close to full, and I managed to add even more purple to myself with a new Kurta. Guess my current favorite color.

We went back to the palace on foot one morning. The neighborhood across the street from our hotel fascinates us. One thing I have found that I really enjoy when traveling is making eye contact with women, particularly women my age, and exchanging smiles. Sometimes the smile only come from me. Americans smile a lot, and if you ask other cultures we smile for no reason and it’s weird! I always make a special effort when I see women in a Niqab, the veil and face covering which leaves the eyes clear. Five years ago Rich and I were in Indonesia and both struck up independent conversations with a couple (bathroom at a train station), and she was wearing a Niqab. It made me wonder how often women in Niqab are overlooked, or even ignored, by folks who don’t feel comfortable with the idea of a women who veils or covers. In Indonesia we all laughed to see our partner walk out of the restroom chatting with their partner. When I make eye contact with a woman, of any age, and nod, and she nods and smiles back, I feel like I’ve made a connection, however small.

Navigating the cows in the neighborhood across the street from our hotel.
Don’t let the dirt streets make you think this is a poorer neighborhood. The houses were quite nice.
The pongol, harvest festival, occurs in mid January and many cows were still sporting their turmeric water paint jobs.

Our walk to the zoo took us through this neighborhood, and our walk to the palace. It was fun to see the children being packed into auto rickshaws for the trip to school. I counted nine children in one rickshaw. Ladies, I assume maids for the houses, were sweeping and watering down front stoops and steps, and drawing elaborate rangoli or korams in rice flour.

Rangoli with color.
Spotting the rangoli was like a treasure hunt.
Not every house had one, which made them even more special. Apparently the devotion to this mostly women’s art comes and goes as generations give it up or take it up.

You can understand how a simple 15 minute walk to the zoo turned into a tour of its own.

These rhesus macaque monkeys at the zoo, not in an exhibit, were the only ones we saw in Mysore. Escapees from the actual macaque exhibit we assume. This little guy was thrilled with the plastic bottle he got from a trash can.
We’ve seen zoo workers in with elephants in Indonesia as well. In the US most if not all zoos keep humans and elephants quite separate. At one point elephant keeper was the most dangerous job in the US.
Many Dosa were eaten.
The purple lady waiting to dig in to a Dosa.
In the Mysore Palace. Once we realized we were the only ones obeying a few old no photos signs, we started taking photos too.
The colors. Amazing.
Columns, chandeliers, stained glass skylight.

So am I better at travel in India this time? Yes and no. We are more experienced travelers, but India doesn’t really suit our travel style. It’s challenging to be independent travelers here, which is why we see so many tour groups at our hotel being loaded into an AC bus after breakfast. It’s hard to book trains, or figure out local buses, and it’s challenging to walk many places. Rich has been working out in the hotel gym, but since I’m still recovering I can only walk. No yoga or arm workouts yet, so I’m feeling antsy. But the highs of India are indeed high and I’m glad we’re here. I love seeing and learning about new things. Tomorrow we leave Mysore and head to a lodge stay near a nature reserve. It’s not great tiger viewing season, but we can always hope, and the bird watching is supposed to be amazing.

The happy travelers in an auto rickshaw that matched my color scheme.

Chaos and Calm in Bangkok

This is our fourth visit to Bangkok. Bangkok is unique, fluid, and always changing. And we always look forward to further exploration of this vast and fascinating city, built over the swamp and floodplains of the Chao Phrayo River.

The Bangkok vision of a green city…from Benchakitti Forest Park

A lot has changed over 17 years since our first visit. There are new green spaces, MRT and SkyTrain extensions, and dozens (hundreds?!) of new malls and high rise buildings. But in many ways it hasn’t changed, including frenetic streetlife, food, and more traditional low rise and open living in most neighborhoods.

Bonus meet up with our friend Charlie, who used to live in Bangkok, and now leads and organizes amazing safaris in Africa and Asia with Remote Recreation

But the pace of change in urban mobility hasn’t happened as fast as you would expect, or in pace with other big Asian and global cities. And unhealthy air, noise, and traffic are still major drawbacks to daily life. Some of this is due to challenging and unstable governance, some due to a slowing of the economy and the pandemic, but at its core, Bangkok is fighting a legacy of car and scooter dependence that has been coddled, accommodated, and supported by street expansion and lots of (mostly free) parking at every destination.

A slightly more orderly but still congested Bangkok in 2023

Of course, the addition of more highways and toll roads has helped overall capacity, and apparently even the continuous congestion and traffic jams of 2023 pale in comparison to the true chaos of the 1980s and 90s before road expansion and rail transit began.

Yup, this is where you walk…also the scooter lane, and unlike the narrow lanes of Europe, cars, vans, and SUVs are big here.

But it’s a catch up game, as the first SkyTrain (metro) didn’t open until 1999. Luckily, major development has been concentrated along transit corridors. And there are now 3 BTS SkyTrain lines with 62 stations and 2 MRT lines with 46 Stations. The buses seem to be a missed opportunity as they have little or no dedicated space and suffer in the congestion. These old buses belch a scary amount of diesel along the roadways into air often in the 150-200 (very unhealthy) AQI levels.

Up on the skyway…choosing the right station exit can save you time and the stress of crossing mega intersections

There is also an elevated driverless train line to the somewhat distant Suvarnabhumi (BKK) Airport that opened in 2010. These have all helped to reduce car dependence and expanded the reach of transit. But overall, the system is not extremely user friendly as the BTS, MRT, and Airport Trains are operated by separate companies, so ticketing is still separate and connections a bit clunky and congested. But it all works and much of the service is good. We just carried two fare cards and swapped out for SkyTrain to MRT trips, and bought an electronic single-fare token for our trip from the Airport.

Adding fare to our MRT tap cards…once you get the hang of it, it sort of makes sense. Minimum add is 100baht, but machines only take one bill per top up transaction. Quirky.

We spent a week here in 2007 staying with two different expat friends. Outside of India, Bangkok was our first big Asian city experience. It was a globalization boom time. (And possibly peak?) We were mesmerized by the chaos and modernity of the city, then one of the fastest developing in the world outside of China.

The travelers loved the new SkyTrain in 2007…so young!
Varied street life on the side streets…explore and you never know what you will find

At that time, we explored the country for 6 weeks, so saw the northern mountain regions, northeast rural and Mekong, and the southern peninsulas and fabulous islands. Like most western travelers to Thailand, we loved it. We stopped over here for 3 days in 2014 and 2017 as part of travels onward in Asia. Both follow up visits were enjoyable as we stayed in two different neighborhoods, but always close to a MRT or Skytrain station.

Chatuchak Park next to the mega weekend market of the same name has a great 2mi loop to walk and is very well kept with park staff on bikes. Yeah Bangkok!
Lumphini Park is the old main park of Bangkok…still a nice respite with trees, but nearby mega construction and a bit too much “stuff” in the park reduces its luster somewhat
Asian Water Lizards are all over the parks and canals of Bangkok, they can grow up to 10 feet!

So fast forward to January 2023….two coups, military leadership, a new King, global slowdown, and three years of a pandemic devastating the tourist economy which accounted for over 20% of the GDP in 2019. It’s still the second largest economy in Southeast Asia, but the stagnation is obvious and frustrating for the hard working and constantly striving lower and middle classes.

Canal paths are arteries of a calm and old style life in many neighborhoods
Some canals could link up neighborhoods, but most are neglected or cut off…definitely a future walking network opportunity

Its growth and development is still chugging along, but it does feel like it the benefits of mega projects, skyscrapers, and industry are not reaching the masses. The unfortunate decision in the late 80s to embark on a massive roadway expansion in the city instead of transit set the patterns that feel intractable in today’s Bangkok.

The Bangkok Art and Cultural Center is a fun and free space to explore in central Bangkok

On the bright side, a new central train station has been opened in northern Bangkok, that the government hopes to use as a hub of a vastly expanded rail network, with a specific goal for tourist service. Good plans if they can find the will or money to execute the plan.

The massive new Krung Thep Aphiwat Central Terminal opened January 19th
Me and the Royal Family approving of the fantastic new station

Thailand still seems to need more tourist (and other?) taxes to pay for infrastructure. One of the highly touristed (and beautiful) islands Koh Tao has instituted an arrival tax for each tourist to help pay for much needed sanitation and environmental improvement s, but it’s modest (<$1), so progress will be slow. Thailand itself is also proposing an international arrivals tax of 300 Baht (about $10) starting in June, but monies are designated for accident services and development assistance. It still seems light based on the impact tourists have on the infrastructure.

Platforms and multi level concourse are inside the grand hall, but no photos allowed…
Striking architecture
Recruitment for new taxi drivers….but the station is also connected to two metro lines
Beautiful, but a little vacant on opening as this was built for the future; including HSR

But the most obvious deficiency in Bangkok’s transport network is walking and cycling. It’s shockingly disconnected. The artery and capillary (Soi) network is disconnected by design and development legacy, as well as many routes being cut off by the remaining canals. But dead end streets are the nicest to live on and bring quiet from the chaos, so the challenge is to expand walking and cycling networks without inducing car and scooter traffic. It can work with some clever bollards, gates, or chicanes…and maybe some scooter traffic is acceptable as this would shorten trips for many from the arteries, as a grid is established.

This is the way!
Yup, Soi 14 does go through …just barely, but a fantastic calm link south of Sukamvit
There is literally no space for bikes on most roads in Bangkok…only for the brave and determined
Kitty finds some calm under a pick up truck

So for us, this is a livability failure. The lack of connectivity has been recognized by some studies (See UDDC Goodwalk pilot plan) and a few small steps have been taken recently to improve pedestrian mobility, such as new ladder crosswalks and a corresponding law increasing fine for motorists violating ped ROW in a them.

The calm of some of the alleys and sub alleys is a delight and an opportunity for connectivity

It is a bit encouraging, but mostly pedestrians are still a sub-species clinging to gutters, dodging scooters, and navigating a pretty hostile, polluted, and unpleasant streetscape on the main arteries. On hot and polluted days, which are many, it makes even the most ardent walker retreat to an alternate means.

Oh, but the food is amazing and tasty and still and integral part of daily life in Bangkok. The Northern Thai casual restaurant
Cheryl enjoying Khao Soi at the amazing Hom Doam in Thonglor
A Northern Thai food sampler at Hom Doam
A main canal, just west of the Jim Thompson museum house, has fast ferry service and connects to the river.

But indeed this a just a drop of perspective from a non-resident Farang, and I don’t begin to pretend to understand the complexities of life and culture here. But the local officials and planners do. And many are working hard to make the long vision changes to lifestyle and infrastructure that will lead to a healthier environment and people.

Great meeting fellow travelers Heather and Volkan for a long chat at Chamlong’s vegetarian restaurant near Chatuchak
Buddhist Temples are can be prominent or tucked away in hidden spots throughout Bangkok
Green alleys to quiet living oases…if you could only keep walking

Bangkok is a complex ecosystem of 11 million people, and finding the balance of economic growth and opportunity versus health, pollution, and mental health is tough. But as Asia often looks forward, I’m hopeful that next time we visit bangkok we’ll see more positive changes. Already they are considering a congestion charge, expanding the MRT, and modifying laws to improve pedestrian life. Just don’t move too many of the food carts out of the way….we can walk around!

The happy travelers in Benchakitti Forest Park

Happy travels and on to Southern India!

About my breast surgery…

Back in my 30’s I told my husband that I reserved the right to have a breast lift in my 50s. As a larger breasted woman I knew a time was coming when the complicated relationship I had with my chest would become simply annoying – like a party guest who overstays their welcome, and I imagined, in a non specific way, doing something about it.

Post surgery. We are both relieved to have the actual surgery complete.

And then for twenty years or so I pretty much forgot about the idea of surgery. I bought more expensive bras which did a good job of keeping me feeling confident and fairly comfortable. And my breasts were just something about me. Something I never really liked, but just part of who I was. But what woman hasn’t been annoyed or shamed or maddened by someone commenting on her breasts. Or her body in general. Not just men commenting, but mostly men.

One view from my hospital bed. The IV drip.

And then, in May 2022, the New York Times published this article by the talented writer Melissa Febos. The Feminist Case for Breast Reduction.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/10/magazine/breast-reduction-feminism.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare

It was a lightbulb going on. An ah-ha moment. She had the words that I had never searched for about what it was like to live with unwanted attention for an accidental genetic attribute. I am sure that my sometimes quite prickly personality comes in part from people feeling free to comment on my breasts from a terribly early age. What 12 or 13 year old has the language or confidence to clap back at an adult man or peer boy who has absolutely overstepped today’s standards, but not the standards of the 1970s? Want to see a young girl shrink into herself? Comment on her body.

The other view from my hospital room.

I started researching breast reduction and started really resenting the limitations large breasts cause, and resenting even more the objectification society puts on women. I shared my feelings with my wonderful husband and he was, as expected, amazing and accepting and supportive.

We discussed where. The US was not really on our radar since the cost would be higher there and we both have a high level of comfort with healthcare around the world. We considered Türkiye, we’d been there last April and felt that Istanbul or Izmir would be good places to stay for a few weeks. But Thailand rose to the top of the list because I read good things about experiences there, and we know and enjoy Bangkok. And we hadn’t been to Thailand for five years, and could work it into broader Asia travels. Thailand is well known for medical tourism, so you can find a lot of information on line.

Hospital breakfast. Once Rich let the nursing staff know I’d prefer the Thai menu to the western menu the food got really good.

I contacted a company called Medical Departures and was sent two quotes for two different hospitals and doctors. I choose Yanhee International Hospital because they specialize in cosmetic and plastic surgery, and because it is right next to an MRT line, the Blue Line. Yup, our desire to have good access to public transit does influence all our decisions. I was able to research the Doctor on line and got a sense of his level of experience and how many of these types of surgeries he had preformed. I arranged two appointments, a consultation and an actual surgery date. These were confirmed December 1, 2022, for January 19th for consultation and mammogram, and 20th for surgery.

We could also order food from the hospital cafe to be delivered to the room. For myself and for Rich. So when the only thing that sounded good was pad see ew, we got that.

We both agreed that if anything felt off, or if either of us wasn’t comfortable with the hospital or Doctor we’d hit the brakes. I didn’t share our plan with anyone- sorry good friends and family, I needed to be in my bubble about this and didn’t think I could handle any kind of reaction from my nearest and dearest. I have pledged to never do that again. Rich took the brunt of that decision since he had no one to support him. So, for anyone else considering this, consider your partner’s need for support versus your desire for privacy. We had each other for support, which was enough for us, for this decision.

Asian water lizard in a canal near the hospital. Nothing to do with this post but how cool!

The incredibly well staffed hospital was clearly signed with a specific check-in desk for international customers, and we were accompanied up to a waiting room and given a number. For our consultation appointment we did spend the usual amount of time waiting before meeting the doctor, and then a lot of time waiting to complete the blood draw, EKG, mammogram, ultrasound mammogram, and chest x-ray. We broke the cardinal rule of hospital visits – we failed to bring a phone charger. And snacks. We both felt a little shaken when at first the Doctor seemed to have no idea that we had booked a surgery date already, but then the international coordinator, a young man with a clipboard, showed up and all was well.

The hospital.

Six hours of tests, signing consent forms, paying with a credit card, waiting, and one lunch in the hospital cafe later, we were sent off with an appointment slip for the next day and instructions for me to neither eat nor drink anything after midnight.

After the first follow up appointment.

I’m not sure international elective surgery is for everyone, you need a certain level of acceptance that you’re going to feel at a loss at times. When two nurses are chatting in Thai while trying and failing to get an IV in the back of your hand – that requires a strong belief that all will be well. Turns out I have small and deep veins in my hands so after 3 tries (yikes!), the very calm anesthesiologist whom I’d met the day before told me he would put the IV in my hand once I was under. Phew!

Out for a walk a few days after surgery.

Not since I was a child with a fractured jaw have I been put under general anesthesia so I have no experience to compare this to. Was it what we in the US would consider usual? No idea. I breathed in through my mouth as instructed and woke up to a nurse gently patting my cheeks and saying Madam, Madam. It was three or four hours later and when they rolled me back to my room there was my husband. What a welcome sight. I’m sure he has more to say about what it’s like to be the one waiting for surgery to be over, but I will be forever grateful for his support and planning skills and calm manner.

A comfy room with a view in which to recover. The air quality has been pretty bad at times, and fine at other times, depending on the wind.

Apparently in the US this surgery is sometimes accompanied by an overnight stay in the hospital, sometimes a same day discharge, but at this hospital they planned for a three night stay. I asked for a two night stay after the first night, since all seemed to be going well, and the Doctor agreed.

We’ve just returned from the first follow up appointment where some of the stitches were removed and the dressings changed. We will have one more follow appointment in five days where the final stitches will be removed and off we’ll go to our next adventure.

The happy and relieved travelers post international surgery experience.

One final thought, I’ve been grateful to be strong and healthy for so long. Able to do everything I want to do – bicycle tour, hike long distances, travel with Rich, enjoy family and friends – now I look forward to doing everything I do with a bit more comfort. As I was signing consent forms the day before surgery the lovely Thai nurse, dressed as all female staff were in fitted lavender skirts and jackets, with matching nurse hats, said “Madam, this is consent form for breast reduction.“ she broke from form for a moment and sighed, and gestured to her own chest, “And god has not given me enough.” So many of us have complicated relationships with our bodies. I’m glad to have been able to make mine a bit less complicated.

Taipei 101 – An Introduction

I love the rush and excitement of flying into a new place. And since we transferred through Tokyo on ANA, we flew into the closer Songshan city airport (TSA) and had a window seat on a long double loop around the dramatic hills and skyscrapers of Taipei….a free aerial tour of the city where we would spend our next week!

Lunar New Year Bunny Seats on the 89th Floor of Taipei 101
Lost? You can almost always spy Taipei 101 wherever you are.

Note that most longer flights go out of the much larger and more distant Taoyuan International Airport (TPE). But both have good rail connections right to the center, so no worries if you fly into or out of TPE.

Waterfalls, mountains, and forest

Taipei is a world class city that just doesn’t rise to the top of most (western) tourists lists. But we think the Portuguese nailed it with the name “Formosa”, as it is a beautiful, prosperous, and free place.

Local Agriculture in the Pingxi District

It’s certainly a place that is receiving more attention in the global news due to the complex geo-politics associated with its status and ultra strategic location in the South China Sea. We enjoyed learning so much more about the history of Taiwan. It has left a unique legacy on the psyche of the country.

Ximen, The walkable downtown of Taipei

After the Qing Dynasty lost the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, they ceded Taiwan and the Japanese colonized and controlled Taiwan for over 50 years. When their occupation finally ended after World War II. a dictatorship initially led by Chiang Kai-Shek ruled for the next 40 years under the KMT party, with strict repression of free speech, detentions, and killings known as the “White Terror”.

Getting dizzy in Taipei 101
The massive damper on the 88th floor of Taipei 101 has a series of cute damper babies…this one was my favorite. Way to make science cute.

By the late 80’s, a slow transition to a more open and democratic Taiwan started, and after the election of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2016, it has solidified its place as a liberal and forward looking democracy.

The Pingxi train and Shifen suspension bridge

They were the first Asian state to legalize gay marriage in 2019 and have 42%+ representation of women in the parliament as well as a female president. The Scandinavia of Asia?! Almost, but there is still a huge gender wage gap and other legacy issues of a male dominated business world.

Bali and Tamsui are easily reachable by MRT and ferry for seaside strolling or cycling

However, we could feel the positive energy and openness in Taipei, although all within a society that still values social stability and conformity. It’s an interesting mix but definitely a positive one to experience, even as an outsider.

Run Up to the Lunar New Year on Dihua Street
Cutest local fire station ever, Tamsui

Here’s the Top 10 reasons we loved our week in Taipei and why you might too:

1. The Food – you can see Cheryl’s last two posts for lots of details on the food scene…great food everywhere, and the amazing and exciting night markets.

Ready for the year of the rabbit
Food and SO many boba tea shops…Taiwan invented it and continues to reinvent it for the rest of the world.

2. Unique culture – fun and quirky with a rich history influenced by indigenous, Han Chinese, Japanese, and western culture. There is also a strong fascination with Korean pop culture and clothing. It’s not quite like anywhere else, it’s Taiwan.

Cute = Taiwan
Check in option at Tinguan Airport…no takers?
Cat/bartender at the Tipsy Dragon in Songshan

3. Efficiency AND Kindness – This is a neat and orderly city…people follow the rules and you will enjoy yourself more if you do too. Or at least make an effort. It’s an easy, extremely collaborative society, and everyone has built in empathy and spacial radar systems. You’ll never bump into someone or have them cut or push too much, even in crowds…it’s infectious and relaxing once you embrace the system.

Graceful and spacious MRT stations, many outside the core are aerial with quiet platforms, views, and pleasant breezes. No center running freeway noise here.
Stand right, walk left…always!

4. The MRT! – a comprehensive and modern system that carries 2 Million passengers a day. Buy a EasyCard (IC Card) at either airport station for 100 NTD (New Taiwanese $, or about $3 US), load some fare and then tap in and out like the locals for 50c to $1 a trip. We had the airport station agent add 300 to each to start, so paid 800 NTD. If you get a funny beep or issue with your card, there is always a helpful staff person nearby.

The MRT is integrated with neighborhoods, creating nice station area plazas such as this one in Shilin
Neighborhood pride in Shilin

There are also real time predictions at all MRT and most bus stops, so don’t be intimidated to use buses as well. Big numbers on the front…tap on and off with your IC card when you ride at the front or back doors. So easy.

Keeping an eye on train operations in Jintong

5. Bathrooms – Seriously, Taiwan is the most bathroomed place on the planet (interested to hear about others!?). Every station has one (or two), public parks, museums, attractions, malls, night markets, parking garages, busy neighborhoods….you get the idea. And all free and clean, which really does reduce travel stress and the need to go into “camel mode” walking about like in some counties.

Fun, inviting, and yes, bathrooms in Pinxi District
Always so close

6. Greenery – Parks, long greenways (140km of bike paths!), and lush hills and mountains make for a pleasant backdrop, plus potted street plants liven up even the drabbest streets.

Street plants seem to be a craze in Taipei and make the vast downtown neighborhoods a bit more livable
Ahead of the curve…the cool interchangeable scooter batteries of the Gogoro energy system
Alley greenery (and the ubiquitous Food Panda!)

7. Clean air – not perfect but good for such a large city due to great public transit, fairly clean vehicles, frequent coastal and island breezes, and the greenery noted above.

Spiritual moss on Jiantan Mountain
Building around tree or tree within building?

8. Safety – Traffic is pretty organized and street crime seems virtually non existent. One of our only social gaffs was inadvertently moving a women’s notepad/binder/IPad? from a back garden of a coffee shop…we thought it belonged to the shop, and she came out surprised to see us in her seat…we offered to move, but she refused and headed to another spot upstairs. Oops.

Pocket temple in Tamsui
More fun at the Onsen Museum in the hot spring town of Beitou…via MRT of course.
The historic Pingxi Train line runs 13km from Sandiaoling to Jintong runs hourly, so you can hop off and on or walk between stations.

9. Hiking and cycling culture – a great proportion of the world’s quality bicycles are made here (not to mention 90% of the worlds fast semiconductors), and they actually push cycle touring as a key component of their tourist advertising. On this first “winter” visit, we only grazed the endless mountain and forest trails that crisscross the spine of Taiwan… with many accessible by public transit.

Morning walk up Jiantin Mountain
You can walk from the edges of the city far into the mountains and take a train or bus back.
E-bikes for Spaniels…so green

10. Mixing with the locals – not many western tourists makes for a more exotic feel. And at least some English in most places makes interactions more rewarding. We’ve discovered this cool Asian capital, right-:)

Cheryl drying out one of the many cats of Houtong Cat Village
Cats keeping an eye out on the purpose built cat bridge in Houtong
Cat food on the cat bridge

Maybe you’ve been here and are nodding along, but if not, consider at least a stopover in Taipei on your next travels to Asia, or better yet, spend a few weeks or a month traveling around the whole island. Rail circles the island and the more developed west coast has a high speed rail network that takes you all the way south in about 2 hours.

So much to explore outside of Taipei…Shifen village between trains.
We only dabbled on the local trains, but there is a whole island to explore!

The more you learn about the people, history and culture, the more you will understand the how complex the geo-political conundrum really is. Our hope is strong for a positive future for Taiwan and we definitely plan to come back soon to explore by bicycle.

🐇🎉Happy Year of the Rabbit! 🎉🐰

Peace to all and happy travels!

Taipei food love affair.

I’ve run out of superlatives to describe the food in Taipei, but I haven’t run out of food photos.

Waiting patiently at the Shilin Night Market for more soup dumplings.
Rich with an oyster omelette. Shilin Night Market.
Oh yes, the appetizer on our way into the market – Taiwanese Sausage on a ‘bun’ of sticky rice. The sausage is slightly sweet and the sticky rice so chewy- lots of Q. Delicious
This market was mostly moved underground. It’s a different feel to the stalls on the street – which also still remain – but there is seating which is nice.
On a day trip by train to the mountains, here I am in Pingxi, continuing my quest to eat all the soup dumplings.
Rich and his quest to eat all the beef noodle soup.

Ningxia Night Market was our next food stop after a day out of town. The amazing travel planner booked us into a hotel right across the street from an MRT station so it’s easy to get to downtown and the amazing night markets.

First stop, stall 91 for Liu Yu Zi’s deep-fried homemade taro balls that have crispy casing and chewy inside filled with pork floss and egg york.
The chef is using a spring scoop to make the balls of uniform size.
We only got two. The flavors were so unique and absolutely delicious.
Next stop. Squid!
As you can see, there is a bit of English on the stall signs, but Google translate camera comes in very handy.
The Chef chopping up the squid.
A bowl of squid. Pickled onions on top, we think.
The fun of the night markets is just strolling along and buying whatever catches your fancy.
This is a sorghum sausage inside a crepe with scrambled egg cooked onto the crepe. Another absolutely unique and delicious treat.
The close up. Yes, food photography is not easy. But perhaps this gives you an idea of what it was like. I like the background captures of night market life.
And to finish our evening, a peanut ice cream roll.
A crepe, shaved peanut candy, like peanut brittle, two scoops of taro ice cream, and a sprinkling of cilantro.
Rolled up like a burrito and delicious.

This city. Being presented with all new flavor profiles. And in a fairly easy to access way. Even speaking no Chinese we get fed thanks to the kindness of people and multicultural nature of Taipei.

Individual hot pots for lunch one day, with a side of the famous stinky tofu on the right. The smell is stronger than the taste. Glad we tried it but I won’t seek it out again.
For our final lunch we went to a small Japanese restaurant for curry. Rich got pork.
And I had fried chicken. This was a small place, the two chefs you see are the complete staff. They ran an organized and tasty place.

For our final night we went back to the Raohe night market. We both wanted the pepper buns again, and I went in saying, right – done with taking photos. But as soon as we had something new and amazing I was back at it! And again, in good company. There were plenty of other people, locals and visitors, snapping pictures and rhapsodizing about the food. Not many western/non Asian visitors here. Taipei seems to be a slightly ignored Asian city by the western world travelers.

Cabbage and tofu. Both from the small cart over Rich’s shoulder. Both delicious. Each plate $2.00. The market on a Tuesday night was much less crowded than Saturday. We could look around and find places to sit.

I had noticed a stand on our first visit selling pineapple buns filled with ice cream. We didn’t make it back to the stall the first night- I had reached my crowd limit – but on our second visit we made sure to leave time and room in our tummies. There is no pineapple involved in this bun, it’s a soft fluffy milk bun with a cookie like crumbly topping reminiscent of Dutch crunch rolls we get in SF. The top is cut to look like a pineapple.

Fire Ice Pineapple was the Google translation. Note that you can get cheese, butter, cheese and butter, or one of a few flavors of ice cream in your bun.
I decided on vanilla ice cream.
Rich got mango.
Both were delicious. I don’t think of desserts when craving Asian cooking, but from now on I will associate Taiwan with some pretty unique and delicious desserts. And not too sweet, which is nice.

With our bellies happy, and with a new love for this amazing City and its lovely residents, we move on. Rich is working on a post all about everything not food related that we did – and honest, we did more than eat!

The Happy Travelers enjoying the city of Taipei.

The amazing food city of Taipei, Taiwan.

Working up an appetite with a morning hike up Jiantan Mountain Park.

So much amazing food. So many fun places to go to eat good food: shopping malls, night markets, little hidden restaurants in office building basements.

We dove right in with Xiolongbao (soup dumplings) at Din Tai Fun, famous for this dish and with many locations around the city.

From our first meal we were captivated. We are so happy to be able to travel in Asia again. Taiwan only opened back up to tourists in October 2022 with no 14 day quarantine required. This is our first trip to Taiwan and yes, we are already talking about when we’ll come back. Hopefully for a bike tour. We mention that to everyone we chat with to get as many tips and recommendations as possible.

Elevenses here means iced coffee for Rich and an iced matcha milk for me. At Cho Cafe in the Wanhua District.

We’re walking and taking transit everywhere we go. Walk, museum, walk, snack. Walk, lunch, walk, bubble tea.

Hot and sour soup, greens, and pork leek dumplings in beef soup.
The beef soup was delicious. The dumplings devine. At Lao Shan Dong Homemade Noodles.
The workers were so nice to us at this place. They helped us order and the young man who brought my soup and dumplings asked if I liked spicy. Why yes, I do. He brought me a little dish of something spicy from the condiment bar.
Google translate is such a good addition to travel in countries where you don’t speak any of the language, this translates as spicy butter. Yes please.
One more photo of the delicious hand cut noodles in Rich’s soup. I failed to get a photo of the chef making these noodles when we walked in, and of course when we left he wasn’t there.

Taipei is justly famous for its night markets. We’ve gotten to four so far, and the mix of food and goods for sale, families, groups of youngsters, bright lights, and divine smells is intoxicating. Ok, I admit that when passing a stinky tofu stand the aroma is a bit overwhelming, but we did try the stinky tofu with lunch one day. Not bad. The taste is milder then the scent.

Even with so many food opportunities at the markets, there are fan favorites. Look for the lines and join in. This line is for Gua bao, or the Taiwanese Hamburger (刈包)
Replenishing the bao supply.
Rich waiting and watching. The line moves quickly.

四兩刈包-台北創始總店/Si-liang Taiwanese Gua Bao, in the Zhongzheng District was our choice but many places make versions of this.

Here you can see the bao, the peanut powder, and the coriander. There is also pickled mustard greens.
The meat, pork belly. Fat, lean, or half and half. We got half and half.
The delicious result. Many customers were buying multiple bao and riding off on scooters. We found a small park and sat and enjoyed.
Boba tea break!

Taipei is also loaded with tea stands. Bubble tea. With boba. With jelly cubes. With any base tea or fruit juice you could hope for. Green tea, black tea, milk tea. Again, such patience from the staff. It’s nice to be in a place not overwhelmed with tourists. Type of tea, level of sweetness, quantity of ice. Be ready with those decisions.

Taiwan is working to get rid of single use plastics, so all the bubble teas we’ve gotten have been in paper cups, this one welcoming the upcoming lunar new year of the Rabbit. Yes, still plastic straws but we save ours and reuse them. Many customers have their own tea containers and places offer discounts if you bring your own container.

Ok, another night market – this one really at night. And a Saturday night to boot! We expected crowds, and crowds there were. It was a bit overwhelming, but we dove in and immediately got in line for Fuzhou Black Pepper Buns (福州胡椒餅). Don’t let the lines discourage you, they move quickly and the staff have this down to a science.

Rahoe Street Night Market.
The line for black pepper pepper buns.
The goal. Get those buns in your belly! Yes, those are Michelin notations you see in the sign. We’ve never been to a Michelin starred restaurant, these Michelin noted places are more our style.
These buns are cooked in a tandoori style oven, stuck to the edges.
Closer photo of the buns, clustered like bats in the oven.
And halfway through this very hot, very delicious treat. The sesame encrusted bun did a good job of containing the filling.

Saturday at the night market was crowded. But people here are good with crowds, very collaborative.

If you saw something you wanted, you just pulled over to the side.
It was too crowded for this little dude, they got a lift up out of foot zone.

A note on all the masks, Taiwan lifted the outdoor mask mandate December 1st, 2022. Would you have guessed that from our photos? Probably not. People don’t seem all that eager to unmask outside yet. We mostly follow the crowds and mask when we’re in busy areas or in line for food, but when it’s just us walking around we go mask free.

One more fun food to share.

We have so many more photos and experiences to share, but I’m going to wrap up this post with one last food.

What are these little balls on skewers? So many possibilities. Octopus? Sweet potato and cheese? Meat? None of the above.
Fried milk.
Delicious. Halfway between a custard and ricotta cheese. The perfect end to an evening of snacking.

Eating our way through the markets reminded us of our recent time in the Basque area of Spain, and wandering the towns eating pinxtos. Similar ease of ordering, point and gesture if you don’t speak the language, hand over money, thank you and step away.

The well fed and Happy Travelers in front of the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall.

We’ll share more soon from amazing Taipei!

What’s so great about San Francisco?

Gorgeous buildings with amazing paint jobs. A paint job like this is a gift to the city.
This deserves two photos. I’ve seen this house when that bare tree is exploding with bright fall leaves. Stunning.

Let’s start with the architecture. And the way folks paint their buildings. The four or five color paint jobs on the Victorians always take my breath away, this one in particular. So bold. And the fence! This is a tour de force of color and joy. I love this house.

A lovingly kept corner building. That awning. The color scheme.

I haven’t found a better city for just walking around and looking at buildings. It helps that since there is so much money in the City now, more people seem to be spending to spruce up the lovely old buildings. SF has a boom and bust history, a history of rising from the ashes, and the care for these exteriors you see must bear witness to a deep love for this City. With each brightly or carefully painted building the mosaic of the city is enhanced.

Even when clad in more subdued colors these buildings charm.
Nighttime glamour. I’m glad I got this photo, that huge Christmas tree in the window was gone the next day.

Great buildings- check. What else makes San Francisco amazing?

Transit! Oh the joy of traveling around while someone else drives and I can look out the window. A bus window. Perfectly situated to enjoy a nice high view.

Great transit. San Francisco has it. I admit that I have always lived quite central and in the northern part of San Francisco where the transit, biking, and walking are all good, and not every corner of the city is as accessible, but I have explored every corner of this city by transit. It’s better than many places we’ve visited in the US. It helps that SF is a small city, 7×7 Sq miles. With the help of MUNI you can explore all the neighborhoods.

The MUNI worm logo. Best transit logo ever? Probably.
Mask free MUNI selfie. On the J Church.
This view. Top of Dolores Park from the J Church. Rivaled only by the view from the 33 bus line as it crosses Upper Market Street.

And what gives us the great views from MUNI? The hills. Tough by bike and even on foot, but a climb up a hill is well rewarded.

The roller coaster swoop of Dolores Street. You might not think of palm trees and SF together, but Dolores Street has an impressive line of palms.

Yes, I was that tourist standing in the middle of the intersection marveling at the hill. I love it when other pedestrians turn to look at what has me mesmerized. See! I want to say, look at that swoop of trees. So cool.

Not every view of hills is as glamorous, but something about seeing hills makes me happy. And those electrical wires are so SF.

We have been so fortunate to stay with different friends each time we come back to this city we love, and left. Each stay in a different neighborhood lets us experience a new to us neighborhood and see a part of the city with fresh eyes. A wise person wrote that you can’t hate San Francisco unless you love it first. (In response to one of those ‘I’m leaving because of…’ letters.) It’s not tolerated to hate this city if you haven’t first learned to love it.

The Golden Gate Bridge after the first big January storm. The road to Ft. Point took a beating.
And that old photo bombing bridge again, with Rich and his flat tire. Photo credit Rich1.

And love it we do. All the reasons I give above are nothing on the main reason why we love this City: so many good friends. We come back to recharge, to swap out stuff from our storage unit, and for Rich to get some bike rides in with his buddies. We come back to see how our city is doing, to find out if the continuing onslaught of wealth has chipped away at more of what makes this quirky city unique and lovable.

Another stunning view. The top of Dolores Park.

After Seattle our little City of hills seems so compact and charming. People are California nice, quick to smile and chat. It does make us wonder if we can settle anywhere else. So, a decision not to make that decision is made. We love SF, and we leave again. Houseless but not homeless.

The Happy Travelers waiting for a BART train to the airport, headed for Taiwan.

Packed up and on our way. Goodbye again San Francisco. See you in about five months. Until then, stay quirky.

Sitting Pretty in Seattle – 2022 in Review

Happy New Year! We’re just winding down our second house sit in Seattle and after almost 2 weeks, we’ve learned a lot about life during winter in Puget Sound. As expected, it is wetter, colder, and darker than the SF Bay Area winter. No real surprise there.

The amazing Cheryl and Seward Park along Lake Washington
Fully equipped kitchens, one of house sittings many perks

But “living” in two different untouristed residential neighborhoods has allowed us the opportunity to experience a bit more realistic perspective. We’ve walked to the parks, grocery stores, and restaurants that we might use if we lived here. We have to decide to walk, take a bus, or drive as yes, life in most of Seattle would be fairly limited without a car for some trips ( We’d also have bikes of course).

Cute cats, another perk
Not to mention security detail!
Kubota Garden – a Japanese garden oasis and one of Seattle’s 485 parks!

People are very laid back compared to SF and friendly if you engage them, but sidewalk or trail greetings are not a given. Just all a bit reserved here. Nordic roots maybe play a part in this. Or maybe it’s the fact that the area draws more introverts with the weather and open space of the Northwest. Where can I hide in the wet woods? Seattle for sure.

Coal Creek Falls in Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park
Cougar Mountain Reserve was previously an active coal mine…ferns hide the legacy pits!
Cheryl never listens!

Seattle has been cool and intriguing to the nation for years, but especially since the rise of grunge and SubPop records in the late 80’s and early 90’s. We’ve been here many times, including multiple bike tours and I’ve been listening to the amazing KEXP for years on the web.

The glassy north side view of Seattle’s skyline with our friend Christine.

We always enjoy it, but how would it be in the dead of winter? Well, we still love it. The magnificent firs, cedars, and other evergreens are in frequent view and are so soothing along with the occasional spectacular Mountain View’s. But it IS cold and damp, and we’ve only had two doses of sunshine in two weeks. Other than an unusual ice storm our first few days, the rain has always been on and off.

The mighty Olympic Mountains from Queen Anne near downtown Seattle. The core and inner neighborhoods are very walkable.

But like the locals, it’s really not an issue if you have decent gear or just ignore it and run or walk in the rain. It’s just water Californians, don’t freak out like a cat in a bathtub! We haven’t freaked out.

More cute cats to keep us warm in Seattle
What’s that thing on the ground behind Cheryl? Rare winter sun in Seattle.

So we’ve surmised that cozy and warm housing is a key to happiness here as there is no fallback to walk in regenerative sunshine in winter, like SF. Oh, and Vitamin D supplements left over from our last dark winter in the UK are just what the doctor ordered. And we’d also need to scale back our pace a bit…which is good.

A rite of passage in the PNW…drive thru Espresso near Mount Vernon.
Caffeine brightens the gray days

Another place we’ve been intrigued about, mostly from afar, is the City of Bellingham which is two counties and about 90 miles north of Seattle. Close, but a very separate place. We bike toured through the area during late summer many years ago and found it beautiful and it felt a bit undiscovered. It’s no longer undiscovered by any means after articles in the New York Times and appearances on endless “best places to retire” lists.

Lake Whatcom…drinking water and recreation source for Bellingham.

We only had two brief days to explore the city and environs but it is a very nice place. Funky but somewhat vibrant downtown, hills, views, forest, lakes, mountains and many parks. It’s also only about an hour by car to Vancouver, Canada, although the border crossing can slow things down.

Downtown Bellingham is funky and hip boosted by 16,000 students at Western Washington University
Old building charm in Bellingham

Could we live here? Sure, it’s very cool. But at this point in our lives, we still crave a bit more urban density, diversity, and a variety of neighborhoods to explore. Seattle has this AND access to the outdoors, although maybe not as close or as as quickly to remote wilderness as Bellingham.

Afternoon Chai and a Cortado at Makeworth Coffee Roasters – Bellingham Chic.

So the decision to live somewhere else for awhile is not easy for us and is not easy when you’ve been in the blissful bubble of San Francisco, which is so eminently walkable, very bikeable, and still full of creative people, variable cultures, and amazing food. We always compare places to these high bars.

Whatcom Falls Park in Bellingham. Including a landmark WPA bridge.
A legacy logging railroad trestle in Bellingham who’s days are unfortunately numbered due to collapse and flood risk.

But SF has its problems, especially affordability, exacerbated by a lack of new housing and stagnant neighborhood planning. The financial disparities are tough and strain everything. Seattle has similar issues, but has more of a relief valve in buildable area and housing options. But we also have deep roots and hundreds of friends and family in the Bay Area. We would miss them but are convinced we could find some good friends here too…we just might need to start the conversation!

Breadfarm in the quirky artist hamlet of Bow…very picturesque but we didn’t think the bread lived up to the scene.
Enjoy your pastry and coffee by an inlet of Puget Sound
Unfortunately, the King tides and the lowlands around Samish Bay don’t always mix well.

But no need to fret about where we land yet as we have decided to wander the globe for another year. We stayed in 130 different places in 2022….yup, that is a lot, so settling down somewhere now would be a bit like hitting a travel brick wall at 100mph. Other stats for 2022 FYI: 45 days of house sitting (9 cats, 2 horses, 2 bunnies), 61 days in apartments, 146 days in hotels (apart hotels, B&Bs, Inns, and pensions), 3 nights on transport(planes, trains, and a ferry), and finally 110 days with friends and family (thank you all-:). Whew!

Where will we go in 2023?

So tomorrow we meander a few days back to the Bay Area for final prep and friend catch up before heading on our next big adventure in Asia…first stop, Taiwan. So excited!

Happy travelers ready for 2023!

Happy New Year and Happy Travels. Maybe we’ll see you out there!

Road trip! PNW, here we come!

Let’s get this part out of the way up front. This road trip does involve a car. I would love to say we figured out a way to do this trip car free, but we didn’t. Do we love road-trips? Well yes, they are a great way to explore the western USA. And who doesn’t love the idea of (safely) cruising up the coast singing along to the radio?

Bye bye California. Oregon and Washington here we come.

In a movie of this road trip you’d now have a montage of us visiting our storage unit to pick up cold weather and water proof gear and excitedly stuffing the rental car with this and that (A cooler! An air filter! Bike helmets! Rain gear!) Upbeat fun music would play. And what would be the music playing when we have to take all of that stuff out of the car each night and into a hotel? Some mournful march. So many bags.

Yes. Rolling luggage cart in use.

Going from one backpack each to this excess of luggage is quite a shock. We’re also toting around groceries from our stay in SF, since we’re house sitting in Seattle and we love the opportunity to cook. And has anyone ever stayed organized during a road trip? Not us.

After a lovely night with friends near Redding our first stop is for spring water.
Every available bottle filled with spring water.
The travel planner was thinking about the coming storm and the pass we needed to get over. This smile says, get moving please.
The happy travelers in front of the spring which is the headwaters of the Sacramento River.

There is something about heading north from San Francisco which always excites us. North. Towards wilderness. Towards mountains and coastline. Remote stretches of road and big views. Not south towards bigger population centers, but north.

North, where The State of Jefferson is proposed. Wikipedia will explain it in full.
What heart doesn’t thrill to the blacktop stretching out for miles under a big sky?
A stop in Ashland Oregon for coffee and chai.

Still racing that storm which eventually wrecked havoc on much of the US, and coated Seattle in ice, we spent a night in Eugene and got an early start to make it to Seattle and our first house sit, the temperature dropping sharply each hour, and the ice day looming.

Chilly picnic sites of the world.
Turkey chili on a cold night, cozy at our house sit.
Seattle’s Mayor asked everyone to stay home during the ice event. Barnacle was happy to oblige.

Snow. Freezing temperatures. Sleet. Streets and sidewalks were solid sheets of ice. Thankfully we went grocery shopping right after we got to our two cat house sit, so we were well equipped to stay inside with the kitties and wait for the thaw. We did put on our boots at one point and opened the front door. The ice on the front steps convinced us to just go back inside. We were regretting not grabbing our traction devices for our boots during our storage unit rampage of stuff accumulation.

Barnacle and Lucy snuggled in for the day.
But even the cats were getting cabin fever.
Kitty on a leash! She was thrilled to be a bit closer to the birds she had stalked through the window. (That is continuing construction of Seattle light rail behind me.)

Once the snow and ice had melted we took one of the cats outside on her leash and harness. Seattle weather wasn’t done with us yet though. During our last morning at the house sit high winds caused a power outage. Now I regretted not having the small solar lantern I always take camping. Rich regretted not grabbing the headlamp he had held up in the storage unit. Thankfully, we had noticed where our host kept candles and matches, so, congratulating ourselves on our adaptability we began to pack up by candlelight.

Overcast morning, candle and iPhone light.

So what was the draw to Seattle in December, you might wonder? Good friends were going to be visiting family in Seattle and generously included us in their Christmas celebrations. We found two different Trustedhousesitters in two different Seattle neighborhoods, and jumped at the opportunity to explore a city we are familiar with, but want to know better.

Christmas morning is even better with musical friends.

As we travel we wonder a lot about when and where me might settle eventually. Back in SF? Somewhere around Seattle? It might be difficult to understand how unstressed we are by our lack of future living plans, but we’re really enjoying our travel life. When we aren’t trying desperately to find something in a pile of luggage. Solution? Less stuff!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the happy travelers.

And One Month Later….

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been back in the US for almost two months, and apologies for the month gap in our blog, a record for sure.

Back in San Francisco and enjoying the amazing new Tunnel Tops Park in the Presidio; love the movable furniture!

We’ve been having too much fun seeing friends and family in Palm Springs, Moorpark and more recently, visiting our favorite SF haunts and enjoying the beautiful Northern California winter. Not to mention bingeing on all the World Cup. Felicitaciones Argentina!

View across Tunnel Tops. Always something new and wonderful in the Bay Area
A new bike path extension to the Golden Gate
A short but always inspiring meet up with our fellow nomad DNT.

But as other nomads have related, retuning “home” is sometimes a bit tough, and strangely disorienting, especially when you know that you’re heading back out into the world again as nomads. It now feels more like a refueling stop, with the primary energy being friends (and tacos!) Nomadic life is endlessly stimulating, but without a base of friends and family to pivot off of, it might seem less invigorating. Contrast in life keeps it fresh.

San Francisco welcomed us with a beautiful sunset…you’re not making this easy SF.
Back riding with the boys on Twin Peaks…so missed this!
Ramen and Udon fix at Marugame in SF.

We’ve also been reunited with some of our “stuff” in a local storage unit. It’s always exciting to roll up the storage unit door and see what is there. Luckily, most clothes to swap out for our visit and onward travels are near the front. It does beg the question of saving so many things, but we know that when we settle down again somewhere, we’ll enjoy seeing so many familiar things again in a permanent setting. Right?

Champion and I excited about a walk!
Mission Creek Preserve in Desert Hot Springs
Walking the dogs in the vast landscape of the California mountain deserts
Happy hour smiles in Southern California
Cheryl and Boba “the cutest and friendliest kitten in the world!”.
Thousand Oaks delivered peaceful scenery, oaks and even water during a late fall hike in Wildwood Park

But after 16 months of travel, we are now a bit awestruck by how streamlined our travel lives are compared to the complexities of typical American life. No home, no car, a few bills…a bag or two and sometimes bicycles. Life is a trade off, and many of our peers could choose to simplify and travel more, but for many, selling it all and going mobile may be just a bit too much.

Christmas and Victorians were made for each other! Hayes Street, SF
Selfie during a run up Twin Peaks…and yes, I’m that guy without Bluetooth earbuds…too easy to lose traveling!

It was not an easy decision for us either. And for many, simply renting your place out is an option, so you can return to your previous life with less of the uncertainties that selling creates. Of course, having no dependent kids or pets helps, and we recognize that this window in our lives to travel may be unique and precious.

Catching up over coffee with our friend, and our ace SF real estate agent Lisa from Polaris
Garlic noodles at Perilla in the Inner Sunset – Check!
San Francisco fire stations have an annual Christmas light competition…it was on in Portola/West Portal.
Being home means baking with friends in Oakland

Home is nice, and the longevity of friends and place gives you a unique perspective on the passage of time. So we especially appreciate the generosity of our friends sharing their homes (or dinner) with us as we return for these recharge sessions. Thank you to all for your generosity and please know we will try to repay someday when we again have some roots in the ground. (Especially Rich and Andi -:)

Hiking up Montara Mountain…the drama of the Bay Area landscape is striking after travels.
The San Mateo Coast south of San Francisco offers endless beauty and secret beaches.
More hiking with good friends in Redwood City

We’ve now just arrived to an usually cold and snowy Seattle after a somewhat leisurely 3 day drive from the Bay Area, catching up with good friends and family along the way. We have two house sits (x2 cats each). Hopefully now away from most of our friends and family I’ll be able to get back to the important tasks of global travel planing for 2023. But the Pacific Northwest is so intriguing….so many places to explore; hmmm?

Cats eye view in North Seattle

But today the streets are still coated in snow and ice, so we’ll wait for the forthcoming thaw and settle into the coziness of our temporary cats, and sip coffee and tea as we look out into the evergreen and snow landscape. More on our Pacific Northwest winter excursion soon, as well as our scenarios for 2023 travel. Still no “plans” -:)

Happy travelers back in Buena Vista Park

Happy Holidays and safe travels to all!