Other People’s Holidays

We’ve covered some ground since leaving Selçuk and have thoroughly enjoyed soaking up the culture, oceans, and food along the stunning Aegean and Mediterranean coasts of Southwest Turkey.

Rare tree shade made the nice swimming at Hastane Beach in Datça even better

The uncertainties of transport, food , and some customs has been more than offset by the friendly and helpful locals. And we’ve stuck to our slow travel ways and navigated by minibus, ferries, and the comfy longer distance coaches that connect all Turkish cities.

Waiting to get our luggage tags in Antalya; just have your seat number and destination ready for the bus attendant
Blending in for sure in Antalya…the major bus stations are lively and well equipped with shops and snacks

One thing we’ve discovered in our travels are the different experiences that you have in a tourist destination that is popular mostly with local versus foreign tourists. Places that are predominately filled with foreign tourists obviously feel less authentic, but also can comfort you with more familiar foods and languages.

Glad to see bike parking for our rentals bikes at the big supermarket (MMM Migros) in Fethiye

But in the extreme, the experience can be virtually cut off from local customs and people, instead replaced with recreated versions of travelers home cultures. (Full English Breakfasts, Schnitzels, and Guinness anyone?). On the other hand, you have a much better chance of meeting other travelers to share a drink, meal, or good chat with. When you’re on long term travels, this can be a nice respite:

We immediately bonded with like minded travelers, Ute and Klaus from Germany and shared two nice evenings with them. Score one for tourist towns!
Buying tram tickets in Antalya with Klaus…a local contactless transit card is key when you arrive in a new region and then you can easily jump on any form of transit that passes by!

In cities, you can get out of the tourist zones by just heading to other neighborhoods. In San Francisco, this would mean heading out of the Wharf and Union Square to the Mission, NOPA, or Inner Sunset.

Bikes are a great way to get away from the tourist areas, even if it’s only got one speed!

However, in smaller places, there is often little escape. Some of the coastal areas of Western Turkey are heavily impacted by foreign tourists seeking sun and swim holidays, with the priorities to relax, and eat and drink comfortably. I get it, as sometimes that’s all we want to do too.

For some reason we chose to avoid this charter boat in Antalya!

That said, we generally cherish the smaller cities and towns that are off the tourist track completely or more locally touristed. But if you don’t speak the language, getting way off the tourist track takes an adventurous spirit, and can be tiring in the long run. A happy medium is to visit places that are full of local tourists, such as Datça. More on Datça shortly.

Shady picnic spot while hiking in the countryside around Datça

We spent 6 days at the end of Ramadan and the Eid Al Fitr holiday in a great apartment in Bodrum. Transport during this big Holiday can be difficult, so we decided to ride out the celebratory heart of it with the local masses who flee Istanbul and other inland areas to head to the coast.

Bodrum does have some foreign tourists too, but the Turkish tourists dominate, so we did feel like foreigners who dropped onto Cape Cod for July 4th weekend. Bodrum has two big bays separated by a rocky peninsula topped by an ancient castle and a fantastic underwater archeology museum.

View from the Bodrum Castle and Underwater Archeological Museum
Reconstruction of the Uluburun shipwreck, ca. 14th c BCE. This amazing find changed the views on how extensive nautical trade networks were in the Bronze Age.

The West Bay is a glitzy promenade lined with cafes, restaurants, and dozens (hundreds?) of large, bulky boats called “gulets”, which are made locally in Turkish boatyards. The East Bay has a more chill beach vibe, and a good public beach at the far end, where we swam at least once a day.

Self guided hike via taxi and mini bus from Bodrum that took in some of the Bodrum Leleg Yolu, a long distance trail that connects the Peninsula with the famous Lycian Way

As we also discovered on a hike in the surrounding hills, there is a ferry dock with daily boats south to Datça… I looked up the intriguing geographic position of Datça and we had found our next move, especially as we could walk to the ferry.

Our comfy neighborhood apartment in Bodrum

Datça is near the end of an amazing peninsula that juts out into Aegean and is surrounded by dramatic hills, ocean coves, small villages, as well as signature nut tree and olive orchards. We spent the very end of the Eid Al Fitr week holiday period in Datça, and loved sharing the holiday spirit and great restaurants in the downtown area.

Locals only off the beach in Datça

The locals were very friendly, and we did not hear another English voice for 3 days. It’s also very light on car traffic and just has a great cozy feel on the small grid of downtown streets, many car free. As we liked to say when we are in such places, we’re experiencing someone else’s holiday, and it feels that Datça is still a little bit off the radar.

Sunday is a big local activity day in Datça, like this group bike ride…if we only had our bikes!

We headed out of Datça by minibus (via Marmaris) down the coast to Fethiye, a beautiful small coastal city, surrounded by steep hills and (still!) snow capped mountains from every vantage. Lots of ancient Lycian ruins in the area, not to mention beaches and turquoise tinged waters. It’s got a big broad waterfront connected by a lovely 5km promenade, but definitely not as cozy as Datça.

The Lycian era tombs above Fethiye
Appreciating the scale of the tombs
Kaya Village is now a ghost town after the 6,000 Greeks had to leave in 1923

Sadly, we realized that our days in Turkey were actually running out, so choose to head directly to Antayla via an inland coach bus (4 hrs) versus continuing along the Mediterranean which would involve 10 hours of sinuous mini bus hops, and leave little time left for other experiences. A friend had told us we could easily spend two months in Turkey and he was spot on, and we definitely plan to return sometime.

Smokers getting last puffs before boarding. Turkey has way too high a smoking rate and consequently, constant second hand smoke is one of the few downsides to travel here.

Antalya is a large coastal city with a nice old town perched above cliffs of an ancient Roman harbor. We enjoyed a few days there, but wanted to head inland to explore a few more less visited spots, so choose to break up a 7-hour bus trip to Konya with a two night stop at Lake Egidir.

Old Greek houses are in various states of disrepair or restoration in Lake Egidir

It’s a huge inland lake, but fairly shallow, and like many areas in Anatolia, a history formed by the Greek exedous/partition following the Greco-Turkish war in 1923. (Officially it was called a “population exchange ”) Somehow it all now feels a bit spooky, and it all has an air of being neither here or there. But since there are only a few places catering to foreign travelers in town, we did find a vibrant scene at our Pension; reminiscent of Pre-COVID times!

Great chatting with Chris and Hillary from Washington State at Lake Egidir. They are touring Turkey by bike for two months. Very impressive for their first extended bike tour!

We are now in Konya, a more conservative large city, where a smaller number of of “western” tourists visit, as it is a major pilgrimage center for Muslims.

Cheryl peruses the options at the main food market hall in Konya.

We wanted to spend some time in somewhere quite different than many of the more liberal coastal areas we’ve been enjoying. So we’re spending two nights here in advance of a 13-hour night train back to Izmir. There a few long distance night trains in Turkey, but make sure you book a week or more in advance to get one of the limited 2-person sleepers, especially as they are very reasonably priced ($30 for 2). We’ll let you know how it goes, but as Cheryl knows, I really love night trains -:)

Free friendly beach dogs were always available in Bodrum

As much as we are still enjoying new experiences in Turkey, we are both getting excited about getting back on the bikes next week and more long distance bike rambles in Northern Europe. We want to cycle the Baltic coast Eurovelo route, but with issues in the region now, it adds some logistical challenges getting past Kaliningrad, as well as questions of the appropriateness of traveling through Poland and other areas dealing with the stresses of refuges and possible energy shortages.

A romantic sunset with my favorite traveler at Fulya Pension, Lake Egidir

Stay tuned and peace to all.

Caution, Turbulence Ahead!

As we enter our second week in Turkey, we have finally adjusted to the time zone, food, and some of the customs of Turkish life; even the complex and nuanced lives of the ubiquitous street cats.

Istanbul’s fantastic car-lite tram streets

Meanwhile the world changes faster everyday. Just as it seems we were looking the worst of the pandemic in the rear view mirror, here comes Putin’s invasion! And now a geopolitical, migration and energy crisis is gripping Europe and rippling through the world. The future is always uncertain, but it feels especially daunting heading into the summer of 2022.

Tram operator‘s view – slightly clearer than the outlook for 2022!

The truth about extended travels is that it is hard sometimes, a fact that travel bloggers and instagramers don’t always highlight between the pretty pictures. For us, returning to the US for a month was a mixed blessing. It was so nice to see friends and family, but at the same time, it brought a bit of angst, especially to me, as I have to fight my strong urge to settle down again. I believe nesting is a basic human instinct, especially as you age…. Luckily, Cheryl is more happy go lucky and able to take the long view better than me, which is one of the reasons our life together works so well -:)

It was invigorating to ride with my friends again in SF

San Francisco was at its finest in April, and after our travels, the fruits of vast prosperity, including high quality food, water, parks, and services really stood out in my mind. Not to mention the spectacular scenery, good weather, and tolerant attitudes. It really is hard to beat. But the very purpose of our extended travels is to break us out of our comfort zone, so we pressed on to Istanbul for the next leg of our adventure. San Francisco, we always miss you:

Dinner with some lovely new friends in Istanbul…your world does get bigger with travel.

We have flown coach the past two transatlantic legs (via TAP), but we managed to use miles for two non-stop business class tickets on Turkish Airways for the 13 hour SFO to Istanbul journey; a worthy investment for the comfort of this 6’-5” carcass. It’s also nice to fly the flagship carrier of any country you are visiting as a bit of the cultural experience can start earlier (even if that culture includes talking loudly while everyone else is trying to sleep-;).

Spring at the Blue Mosque

The service and comfort on the flight was great; but regardless, the 10 hour time shift was pretty harsh! We had forgotten the luxury of the previous 7 months of travel in just a few European time zones, and never trotting around a busy foreign city half zombie like…most of you know the feeling.

Trying new foods to kick the jet lag!

Luckily, a friend and infrastructure colleague in the Bay Area connected us with a local American who has taught and is an administrator at Bachesir Univeristy (BAU) for over 20 years, and is married locally with a child. He gave us a fantastic tour of some of the less touristed neighborhoods, including his home in Kadiköy, a more livable and somewhat hipster neighborhood on the Asian side of the Bosporus. There is no better way to stay awake then to have an energetic local share his local knowledge and insight over 5 miles up and down the hills. Thanks Sean!

Preparing the Kokoreç – lamb intestine wrap. Seasoned offal. 😋

We also landed in Istanbul at the height of Ramadan, which meant locals were out by the thousands (tens of thousands) visiting the city’s beautiful sights and passing the daily fast with family and feasts after sunset. Major holidays are always a mixed blessing when traveling. They can mean that lodging and (especially) transport can be at its limits, but you also get the joy and insight of seeing unique traditions unfold.

All things pickled in Kadaköy

We stayed in the heart of tourist Istanbul of Sultanahmet. Although convenient to the big sites, touts and overpriced restaurants abounded, and it often felt like we were not getting the Istanbul experience we craved. However, it also turned out to be a major destination for local tourists to see the tulips in Gulane Park, or, for the more devout to visit The Hagia Sofia or Blue Mosque.

The Hagia Sofia just before Iftar, the breaking of the fast at sundown during Ramadan

Our hotel also suffered from online ratings bloat, as was ranked near #1 on most booking sites. Just as a “top pick” rating in Lonely Planet used to inflate prices, the hotel did not suit our independent travelers nature. Some people love being doted on night and day, with freebies and gifts, but as long term travelers, we definitely stray towards independence and found it all a bit tedious. And poor Cheryl had to listen to my jet-lagged rants on all the poor design elements and annoyances of the hotel!

The best thing about our hotel in Istanbul was the terrace

If you are staying more than a day or two in Istanbul, then I recommend staying across the Golden Horn in Karaköy or Beşiktaş, or even on the Asian side as the Marmaray raíl can get you to the key sites in 10-15 minutes (or scenic ferries). This is where we will stay when we go back, and I think we will go back. So much still to see.

The lively streets of Beşiktaş

Istanbul is truly unique, and a teeming blend of cultures set on an ancient backdrop. The city is fast paced and hectic, but we enjoyed just diving into the stream of humanity and going with the flow.

Tulip Mania in Istanbul

The public transit is also pretty good, but was very crowded, especially the very useful T1 tram line. Make sure to buy an Istanbul transit card at a major metro or Marmaray rail terminal first and charge it with 50 or 100 Lira. Recharging is easier than buying a card.

Good signage on the Marmaray Rail system opened in 2012
Apparently it took the locals awhile to stop holding their breath under the 8-mile Bosporus Tunnel, since it was built so fast!

We had to ask for help using the quirky machines that sell the plastic cards and often seem to be out of service. But there are always genuinely helpful people all around in Turkey. Just ask. Even if they speak no English, they will still go out of their way to try to help. By the way, you can use one card for multiple people, by tagging them through the turnstiles first. There are turnstiles for the trams as well, as they used a platform pay zone system. Amazingly, we saw no fare dodging anywhere, even when it would be easy at low boarding tram stops.

The Grand Bazaar…go for the building and experience, but not necessarily the quality of the goods.

The trams are also nice new Bombardier built rolling stock, and everything is clean and safe, as is most of the City. The new Marmaray Rail system is an extensive system that runs deep under the Bosporus, and is a crucial link for the mega region of 22 million. The new airport lacks rail service and is way out there, so we took a taxi for about $20 and an hour ride, although there are bus options. Apparently rail is planned, although given Turkey’s financial crisis, it may be an unlikely priority give the distance and cost.

Cheryl on the T2 on the outskirts of Izmir
High Density and Green housing on Izmir’s T2 Tram Line

So after 5 nights in Istanbul, we had to figure out our next move: East towards Ankara and Cappadocia, or down the Aegean coat. As often happens in just in time travels, the transport situation pushed us towards a decision.

Boarding the Ferry in Yenikapi, Istanbul

Turkey has been building a backbone high speed rail network, and it is quite successful, but unfortunately so reasonably priced ($3.50 for 4 1/2 hour trip!) and in demand, that all the trains to Ankara and the east were booked out for 2-3 weeks! Doh!

Boarding the once daily Eylul Express in Bandirma

We thought about flying to Cappadocia, but didn’t want to burn the carbon for our convenience, nor face another hour plus trip back out to the airport in traffic. However, a fast ferry to Bandirma and convenient train connection to Izmir still had tickets. So the lesscarmorelife choice was clear. The slow way to Izmir!

An intermediate stop on the Eylul Express
Basmane Station – Izmir after a scenic and comfortable journey

Izmir is a cosmopolitan city on the Aegean that is the heart of liberal and secular Turkey. We really enjoyed our three days there, and did what we love to do in cities…walked though neighborhoods, wandering and exploring, all served by great tram and ferry links.

Public displays of affection are no problem in liberal Izmir

And again our next move was influenced by transport during the end of Ramadan, and a bit of fate pushing back. Our hotel was walking distance to and from the Basmane train station, and trains continued south, so this was the logical choice; however, we did consider the holiday crowds and thought that renting a car in (as was recommended by many) Izmir could make sense, especially as our flight out of Turkey is from Izmir in 3 weeks.

My lovely travel companion in the sunset light of Izmir

Luckily, the Budget site in Europe would not take our credit cards on booking. (also a problem on the Turkish rail site, so we have had to book at stations). So no car for now and we were off to Selçuk by train for a few days.

Cats and their best friend, the fish monger in Karşıyaka
Great lunch at the mall, our ultimate destination after a 6 mile walk through Karşıyaka-Izmir

One of our mantras is that we see what we see, and don’t fret about what we don’t see. You may see more renting a car or flying, but will you experience more?

First global sighting of a tandem bike share – super cool Izmir!

And Selçuk was a lovely big town of about 30 thousand, where we stayed in a very homey and neighborhood located guest house. Selçuk is one of the gateways to Esephus, but as most people visit by cruise ship shore excursion from Kundasi, Selçuk is more of a travelers town, with a very local and relaxed vibe. More on our visit to follow in the next post.

The Happy Travelers in Selçuk

So we are now in Bodrum, a big coastal city that heaves with summer visitors and is quite busy during the Ramadan holiday, but most locals think the weather and water is a bit too cool to swim yet, the beaches are just nicely populated. Sweet. We have a comfortable apartment for 5 days, and are mixing swimming and sightseeing with laundry, sewing, cooking, and blogging -:)

From Bari to the Bay…

We get a lot of questions about long-term travel and what is it like when you return after 7 months abroad. First off, it’s wonderful to see friends and family again. Nothing beats it.

When will the Coliseum be so empty again? A unique time to travel.

But now that we’ve been back in the US a little over a week, I can tell you that it IS a bit of culture shock. We have experienced so much together, and adjusted to a life where people and places are constantly unfamiliar. Our first reaction when landing in Chicago was how clean everything looked. As much as we loved Rome and live in awe in the layers of history, there is little arguing that it is a pretty untidy city. Dirty, some might say. It’s hard to get 2,500 years of urban stains off things, right? America is actually pretty tidy, or at least we hide our trash well.

Gritty and organic Rome, some wouldn’t want it any other way.

The second thing we noticed immediately is the change in scale and space. Ah yes, precious elbow room, as almost everything in the U.S. is upsized. It felt nice to stroll the endless connected Chicago sidewalks, with plenty of room to pass, and streets wide enough to turn a stagecoach.

The venerable Pasticceria Boccione in Rome, which features 300-yr old recipes for wood-fired Pizza Ebraica and other Kosher treats. Luckily, Cheryl was already inside!

And after arriving in Colorado this week, we can’t help but be awestruck by the vastness in which many of us live, especially in the American West. There is really nothing in Europe that even comes close, and I think this is why Europeans (and Americans of course) especially love to travel to this area, and always insist on going to Vegas. They are unique, vast, and truly American. And they do define who we are, as most Americans are more comfortable in a Costco than a compact urban Bodega.

Yup, lots of space here in Western Colorado.

Finally, I realized that the past 7 months has changed us and our outlook. Cliches about travel aside, we absorbed more European (and Moroccan) culture and, as with all good travels, take the positive aspects with us. For me, I have learned to truly enjoy slow coffee and the plaza cafe culture. The impact on your psyche from the wet and dark Northern European winter. (Gimme sun!)

Our wonderful Italian hosts in Conversano: embracing the joy of a long family lunch

And the pure and simple pleasure of a 3-hour Italian dinner with new friends. You need to have a general humility when you approach foreign cultures as an outsider. Embrace the new, and adjust your expectations. And maybe now I’m a bit more patient….maybe.

New family friends in Italy after a typical Italian breakfast of a Cornetto and caffe.

Travel is also always unique because it happens in the context of the time. We experienced the end of one COVID wave and rode out the first surge of Omicron. The pandemic has mostly been a shared global experience that immediately connects you. The recent drama and tragic unfolding of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is of global concern, but also a way to immediately connect with other travelers or locals.

City hall rally in support of Ukraine, Bari, Italy

So first a few logistics updates on how we got here? From Bari in Puglia, we caught one of two daily intercity trains to Rome. (They actually start further south in Lecce). We opted for the morning train, as the late afternoon train arrived Rome at 9pm, and we always find arriving a foreign city is especially disorienting after dark. We stayed in the Travestere neighborhood of Rome, which is an excellent alternative to the more touristed and hectic side of the Tiber river.

Elevenses in the UK or just a late breakfast cycling break off the Appian Way – Ciccolado caldo and a Sfogliatella

It was also easy to catch the bus or tram to the airport trains at the Roma Travesterre train station. The train connection to Rome Fucinolo airport is excellent and nice new trains leave every 15-20 minutes.

Catching the airport train….still traveling light after all the pizza and pasta!

For our air travel, we again flew TAP Airways from Rome To Chicago via Lisbon. TAP is a member of Star Alliance, and has nice new A330s on most of their long haul services. Very comfortable seats in a 2-4-2 layout in economy. I also highly recommend getting the Plus fare, as for just a bit more money, you get seats in the ExtraEconomy section, two checked bags, and priority check-in. Worth it if you’re tall, and as we noted, our section was less crowded that standard economy. The other big upside of TAP is that they sell one-way fares à la carte, so no penalty versus outrageous one-way fares still charged by the bigger legacy airlines such as Lufthansa and United.

Sparkling new airport trains to Roma Fiumicino. Luggage racks, digital displays, and USB power sockets….check!

The downside of TAP is the Lisbon airport itself….it can get very crowded, and the gate/plane connections are often via shuttle buses from the tarmac, as were both our arrival and departures this trip. But they do pass the savings in to you! They also allow free stopovers in Lisbon or Porto, which is great, and a way to break up the LIS airport experience.

Sticking to our preferred travel modes to O’Hare – CTA bus to the Blue Line El…a bargain in Airport transfers at $2.50, and easy with contactless payment

We arrived to Chicago pretty late, so stayed at a convenient Airpot hotel before visiting family near the Airport, and then two Metra trains to connect with other great friends, who generously hosted us for 4 nights. As a bonus, it was St Patrick’s Day and the Chicago river had a visible green tinge. Americans love to celebrate our immigrant culture, which is still a huge differentiator from many countries in the world. The brave and bold immigrants who continually arrive in the United States are a strength that should not be underestimated.

Exploring the fantastic elevated 606 trail in North Chicago is even better with good friends!

Another wonder of America is the food, as we quickly checked off 3 major food cravings; a great Mexican platter, Thai/Lao delight, and a heaping bowl of ramen. Oh, soooo good! The food in Italy is amazing, but these American taste buds miss the foods of the world.

A Classic Roman lunch in Travestere: Tonnarelli Cace e Pepe, Trippa alla Romana, and Cicoria Strascinata in Padella.

So as we head back to California this week, we are filled with the anticipation of the familiar world of the San Francisco Bay Area, but also both feel a bit of apprehension. We are different people than the working, locally engaged homeowners of a year ago. We have embraced the vagabond life, worked hard to get to this place of freedom, and both know know that we still have a lot of the world and new passions to explore.

Getting our America on in Devil’s Canyon, CO

We will settle down again some day, and when we do, will invite everyone we have met to join us…but not quite yet.

Where to next Cheryl?

Happy Traveling!

The Rise and Fall of Civilizations…

One of the joys of extended travels is discovering the connections and overlapping layers of history, from the Neolithic to this shocking few weeks in Post Cold War Europe. You see snippets of history, in both the context of the ancient society, and the modern context of how it is presented.

Chariot ruts in Pompei show just how much traffic plied these streets, and that there are always infrastructure maintenance backlogs!

In this part of the world, it is still stunning to discover the vastness and complexities of the Roman empire from Morocco to England, and of course, in modern Italy.

Literally layers of history at Herculaneum, right up to the old shoreline.

The past week’s events in Ukraine overlapping with visits to two of the world’s greatest archeological sites, Herculaneum and Pompéi has been sobering. Most of us understand the risks of Putins end game, but it’s especially painful for Europeans who bore the brunt of two world wars and protracted Cold War. History does feel like it is doomed to repeat itself.

The empty Herculaneum on a Monday morning; a joy to explore!

There is a lot to take in at both UNESCO sites, so we decided it was best to separate our visits by a few days. We had planned on trying to get to Herculaneum early on Sunday morning from Naples, and set out from our hotel at 8am sharp only to be stymied by misinformation on the metro and train schedules….(BTW the Moovit app is best in Naples).

I wonder what was for lunch?

So as we sat on a crowded platform, with the prospect of getting to Herculaneum 1 1/2 hours after opening on by far the busiest day of the week, we decided eating €5 train tickets was a small price to pay for a better experience and left the station for another day. Another blessing of long term travels.

Looking towards the impluvium…Roman Villas are so impressive for their thought in design and layout; not much to improve in 2000 years of architectural development.

It was a great decision as we were able to stop at Herculaneum on the way to Sorrento on Monday, and had the place practically to ourselves….oh, and the sky was bluer on Monday too -:). This also gave us the opportunity to watch the excellent BBC documentary on Herculaneum which really did enhance our experience the next day.

Endless Pompei….20,000 lived here at its peak and 18,000 did get out on August 24, AD 79

Both Herculaneum and Pompéi are on the CircumVesuvia regional train line that runs from Naples to Sorrento, so an “on the way” visit is a great option, especially as both sites have left luggage facilities. The Pompéi entrance is very close to the train station, but Herculaneum is almost a kilometer away downhill, so best if you are traveling light with backpack luggage, but it is certainly doable with a roller bag (if you can stand the sound on the sidewalks!)

Left luggage at Herculaneum…simple services like this can make a travel day possible.

Herculaneum was a prosperous and smaller city than Pompéi; kind of a posh suburb. When it was hit by the huge earthquake of AD 62, many of its wealthier residents took the damage as an opportunity to remodel…of course, only to be buried by 50 feet of the pyroclastic flows of Mt. Vesuvius just years later in AD 79. The site is compact and surprising in its somewhat dense surroundings of a more modern town.

Yes, there were cats in Pompei

What was also surprising to us, was all the people that still live in the shadow of the mountain, taking a calculated risk that it won’t erupt soon, or with such force. They say there will be some warning from the vulcanologists and seismologists next time. And of course, we lived in San Francisco for 30 years, so can understand taking a risk living somewhere you love or is your home. Or both.

The restored vineyards of Pompei with Vesuvius in waiting.

After a nice day off in Sorrento walking in the local hills of lemon groves, we visited Pompéi by taking the train back from Sorrento on Wednesday, and again enjoyed an enjoyed light crowds.

Taking a Roman break walking in the hills of Sorrento, with spring finally showing it’s serious in Southern Europe

In fact we walked up to the ticket window at 9:30 am with no line. It did get a bit busier as the day went on, but still an apparent trickle compared to pre-COVID times, as the tour buses have not returned yet. Somewhat a golden time for travel if you can get here.

The tranquil footpaths to Marina Lobra, near Sorrento

Pompéi is vast and sprawling, and it stuns you with the scale of the city’s ancient streets, sidewalks, and lunch cafes. Romans ate lunch out routinely, apparently to feed their appetites building vast baths, forums, and an amphitheater.

The slight curves and meanders of Pompeii’s roads was insightful urban planning

It was so easy to visualize the vibrant community, with its rolling and meandering streets, variety of villas, and the detailed understanding that has been miraculously deduced about the residents of almost every significant building. Artists, traders, cooks, politicians, and more recently nearby, slave quarters that give insight into the reality of the indentured servitude that supported much of the Roman’s impressive legacy.

The work never stops at Pompei, as new discoveries await daily. Amazing.

It also helps to visit the fantastic Archaeology museum in Naples first as we did, so you can see many of the original artifacts, frescos, sculptures, and mosaics first, and the drop them into Pompéi and Herculaneum, like objects in SimCity AD79. There are a lot of in situ items still remaining at both sites, and many buildings at Pompéi are under restoration or access is limited to protect the fragile elements from so many visitors.

Art and story telling enriched every aspect of Roman life….it all feels so modern.

So as we headed out of Pompéi to continue along the Amalfi coast, we both relished this unique time to travel, our freedom, and the fact that our civilization is generally still thriving. But also more cognizant than ever that it can fall apart in an instant….or at least an archeological instant. We have to learn from history and react.

The happy travelers looking for their seats in the Amphitheater

Peace and love to all, especially to those who have recently fled their homes from an impending calamity.

Cruising the Southwest Coast

We rolled into Plymouth by bus and train from Lyme Regis on a Friday eve after our day of (not enough for Cheryl) fossil hunting. We found a nice comfortable apartment east of downtown, which was on the edge of a redeveloped, light industrial area, but proved walkable enough, and close to the Mt Edgecombe ferry and nicely restored Royal William Naval Yard.

Pondering our next moves near Bosigran Castle, Cornwall

Hotels are always busier on weekends these days (still little business travel) so apartments are often a good solution, with the added bonus of being able to cook and avoid busy restaurant nights out.

Smeaton’s Tower Lighthouse that used to mark the treacherous Eddystone reef near Plymouth.

We stayed 5 nights in Plymouth, as a bit of a breather, and to figure out our next moves. To be honest, 5 days was perhaps a day too long, even with side excursions; as Plymouth has a few interesting sights, but suffered badly from the Blitz.

Yes, the Fab Four were here!
Cheryl and our friendly local Greg on the Mt Edgecombe Ferry… hiking AFTER his morning swim off the “Hoe” of Plymouth.
Mt Edgcumbe wandering from Maker to Kingsand, just a 10 minute ferry ride from Plymouth

The core of downtown was rebuilt in the 50’s with a vast scale and the worst of minimalist/brutalist post-war “architecture” and urban planning. The cobbled Barbican and harbor areas are nice and certainly have charm, but the Mayflower Museum was disappointing. But we did enjoy some cosy pubs, the people were friendly, and the countryside nearby is beautiful.

So happy to get on a bike up the Plym River pathway…an easy bus day trip to trailhead rental (Plymouth Bike Hire)
Cycling up to a bakery in Yelverton – Dartmoor National Park
Wheal Martyn Clay Works in Devon…the outdoor museum is a hydro-mechanical playground, and the vast tailings mounds are known as the “Cornish Alps”
One of many working water wheels that used to be used to process the clay; while the still very active clay mining business is now mostly mechanized.

One of the amazing aspects of long term travel is how much can change in a week. We’ve been enjoying the UK for two months now; but are both feeling the desire to move on to some new adventures. So while we waited somewhat nervously for our booster record and NHS registration to process, we decided we’d shake up our moods by changing modes for a week.

Mmm…freshly made veggie Cornish Pasty in artsy and charming St. Ives
The Penrith peninsula of Cornwall; spring was in the air.

Yup, we’ve rented a car for the week to get into the nooks and crannies of Devon and Cornwall a bit more, as there are many places that are just impractical to get to by other means. It’s been a great brain challenge to drive a manual transmission left hand shifting while left side driving on the ubiquitous hedge rows of the region. Always ready to stop, and many snap decisions to back up and breathe in to let an on coming vehicle pass with inches to spare. Maybe not as fun for Cheryl as a passenger though!

About as far SW you can get in the UK, with shockingly turquoise waters and granite that feels sub-alpine
The Merry Maidens stone circle near Mousehole, the rock sizes are tapered to account for the slope of the land…impressive Neolithic applied science.

We’ve also kept the driving to a minimum and always make sure to spend more time out the car walking and exploring. By the way, you can totally visit the region by train and bus, and see a lot…and we’d never consider renting a car in season, as the region is apparently overwhelmed. And we’ll definitely be ready to turn in our keys in a few more days!

What’s over that cliff Cheryl?
Ah yes, a colony of seals lounging on the pocket beach near The Lizard, the southernmost point in the mainland UK.
We walked to Lands End from Senner Cove…always better to approach the tourist hot spots from a distance and walk a few miles instead of a few yards from the car park.

And it’s been a fantastic week, as the coastline is truly stunning and few crowds until the school holidays start in the next few weeks. But alas, we have literally run out England at Lands End and The Lizard, so we’ve decided to move onto new adventures on the continent. And yes, we’ve finally sorted our vaccine records (Thank you NHS!) so are headed to France this week by the slow boat. Stay tuned and happy travels!

Mousehole, Cornwall…memories of dinner here with my father 35+ years ago …. you don’t forget great travels, especially with family.

Doing the Booster Limbo

We left the beautiful and empty lake district via an easy one connection train trip to western Wales, and have been enjoying a lovely week in Tenby, courtesy again of our endlessly generous friends.

The moist and green footpaths around Tenby

The weather has been favorable as well, with little rain, and temperatures pushing 50 most days, as this is often one of the warmest locations in the UK.

Daffodils reminding us that spring is on the way!
The nicely renovated Manchester Piccadilly Station – our only transfer from Kendal to Carmarthen, Wales

We even had the opportunity to part ways for a few days, as Cheryl went to Cheltenham in the Cotswolds with our host, and another old friend for a ladies getaway, while the guys stayed behind in Tenby.

Cream Tea at the Ivy in Cheltenham

Although we almost always enjoy each other’s company, It was good for both of us to have some independent time for a change, and a bit of an odd sensation after so much intense time together the past 6 months.

The boys on a beautiful day on the Pembrokeshire Coast

Long term travel with a partner definitely requires a special relationship, and a lot of give and take. Luckily this comes naturally to Cheryl and I, but we still have to both respect each other’s personal space, independent desires, and known quirks (Just mine of course, Cheryl is perfect -;)

Watchful eyes in Cheltenham

Meanwhile the world continues to spin and adjust to Omicron, although we are happily past the early January peak in the UK. We certainly hope that the world gets to some endemic normalcy in 2022, but there are a lot of challenges, including proper global vaccination supply. As for us, we know we are lucky to be traveling at all and are still so thankful to the NHS for providing us a booster shot in December, as this allowed us to continue our travels with more protection and in a responsible manner.

Freshwater West Beach – a favorite of surfers and kite surfers (yes, it’s often breezy)

However, since we weren’t registered in the NHS system, we only have small hand written vaccine cards recording our booster. We were given a heads up that this could be an issue going forward, especially for travel documentation, and indeed this month, we have found that our electronic (EU) COVID passports have now expired in most countries, as there has been a new standardization around a 270 day (9 month) validity from original vaccines without a booster.

Walking alone along the cliffs near Tenby reminded me not to get too lost in that podcast

So we need to get our booster vaccines we received in December into a more usable electronic format. We think we have found a solution as you can actually register with a local GP surgery in England as a non-resident, and access the record after being assigned an NHS number. We could have registered in Wales in theory, but the health systems are actually quite separate and we were warned that the transfer of the record from England could be fairly quick or take months…something that wouldn’t work for our desired onward travels to France and Italy.

The Fresh Ponds of the Stackpole Estate. Back when you just made ponds for your amusement, but now a perfect habitat for migratory bids

So we set off to Bristol, England yesterday to try to get registered in the area after some initial success online and with some phone calls to various practices that are still accepting new patients. Many are full or shut off due to COVID and/or ongoing GP shortage issues in the UK. Health systems are strained everywhere.

Up and down the coast path to Saundersfoot

As a bonus, we had a bit of an adventurous day getting to Bristol, England yesterday due to signaling issues disrupting a west wales Main line. When our first train leg was cancelled (and next train in 4 hours!) we quickly booked a taxi to the next transfer station, where our onward journey was still shown on time; however, then found out that the problem was still down the line. Doh!

Oh Oh, no trains going from Carmarthen!

Luckily, after some confusion, Transport for Wales did manage to rustle up a few small mini buses to get us past the issue. And in fact, the friendly driver offered to drive the 20 or so of us to a more convenient station for quicker connections and we ultimately got to Bristol an hour earlier than scheduled, by catching a connecting train with two minutes to spare. Small travel win!

Two full hands in Cardiff; happy transfer after making our trains to Bristol

But we are in a sort of limbo while we try to sort out our booster record, but we will try to make the best of it. And it’s interesting to return to the Bristol-Bath, an area that we really enjoyed in our first visit last fall. You so often say in travel life, “we should come back here some time to see more, etc….” But you rarely do. This is one revelation we discuss as we travel new places now; do you think we’ll come back here someday? Yes, no, maybe….but always realizing that regardless, travel to a place is always a snapshot in time, and a unique experience.

The Hanoi we fell in love with in 2007 was not the same Hanoi in our 2017 return. Of course, the UK does have many places that haven’t changed much 500 (or 5000) years, but the country is still a very different place than 5 years ago, as it has a whole different vibe post-Brexit, and mid-pandemic. The travel experience is a complex blend of a place’s physical infrastructure, social, political, and environmental influences, all filtered though the lens of your personal attitude and biases.

Back in cool Bristol, cool brew pubs and bike bridges included

So what next? Excellent question. On our 7 hour train ride last week from the Lake District, we had some time to think about 2022 and develop some broad scenarios. The challenge is to parse out our 90 allowed Schengen days in the prime spring/summer/fall. Some of the goals include more bike touring in Northern Europe, Scandinavia, and the Baltics….tied to the Grand Depart of the 2022 Tour de France in Denmark on July 1st. (Hotel reserved a year ago -:).

Our friend Gary’s dog Misty on the way to the pub lunch at the Stackpole Inn

In the nearer term, we are looking to do some more exploring in Italy, perhaps walking some of the beaten tourist routes more off-season, such as the Cinque Terre, or Venice. Then “home” to the US of a for a month to see as many friends and families as we can ( and consume as many burritos as humanly possible!)…..then back across the pond to explore Turkey for a month, a place we have long wanted to visit, before swapping out for our bikes again. Central and Southern Africa are also on the short list for later in the year, as well as the Camino Del Norte in the fall. Of course, these are all subject to quick pivot as needed based on the state of the world.

Colorful Tenby Harbour

So hopefully the blizzards are clearing and the sun is starting to shine a bit more wherever you are, as we emerge from a long dark winter, and the burdens of a pandemic. For now we move on in the UK with the uncertainty that has become a way of life.

Happy travels!

Car Free in the Lake District in Winter?…Why Yes!

We moved on from lovely Liverpool late last week and arrived Keswick by train and bus (locally pronounced Kehz-ick) on a spectacularly snowy day in the Lake District.

Dramatic winter skies ascending near Grasmere

We were very glad that our professional bus driver was plying the slushy mountain roads, especially on the sheer edges of deep lakes; nevertheless, we did take note of the emergency window systems on the bus! (avoiding what I called a double decker bus watery grave…-;)

Can we do this without a car?

Our decision to base in Keswick was based on a number of factors, but primarily that we could get there by public transit, and numerous lines route from there to other parts of the National Park. It also has a few museums, nice shops, and many services in town, including a great regional supermarket, Booth’s.

Our row cottage in Keswick came with a friendly outdoor kitty neighbor no charge and a 5-10 minute walk to town or the bus
Cheryl trying to cajole an adorable Lake District sheep to follow her home

Oh, it also happens to be very quaint, with a lovely pedestrianized core and footpaths heading in every direction, including along the large Derwant Waters, what we in America might call a lake!

Morning light on Derwentwater in the Lake District NP

We actually wavered a bit about whether we “needed” to rent a car, but then read about many others visiting car-free and thriving with the great regional transit system. After 6 days here, we know it was 100% the right decision for us.

The 78 bus to the end of the line at Seatoller…schedules, a shelter, and multiple trailheads
Cheryl ready to hike…the other friendly passengers were day tripping photography buffs from Manchester

Our decision also considered the fact that this area is heavily impacted by car traffic, much like the National Parks in the US. Nevertheless, the car parks and road are still surprisingly busy here mid week in January, as driving is still seen as the easiest and best way for most to experience the park. Despite some pay parking in many of the towns and villages, the roads are still free and there is an abundance of free parking available.

Hey, there goes our bus!

But it’s not just about the carbon footprint of driving for us. We’ve seen the impacts automobile congestion, noise, and pollution have on communities. When practical, we don’t want to contribute unnecessarily to the problem. Although traffic is fairly light in the middle of winter now, it apparently is extremely congested most of the year, and a nightmare in holiday periods.

On the way to Styhead Tarn; did we mention there is water everywhere!

The typical scenic two lane roads barely fit two bus widths (they slow to pass) or even some large cars and trucks! Luckily most people in the UK still drive pretty small cars, but they still impact the safety and experience of the bikes and walkers that also use most roads. Many drivers here go too fast for conditions and it can be nerve wracking even on small unmarked country lanes.

Fragile sub-alpine tundra above 500m
The surprising alpine world of northwest England…Styhead Tarn near the Great Gable

National Parks and holiday areas have specific problems, and many have now taken to managing traffic through various methods, such as fees, closures, parking management, and shuttles/transit. The Lake District National Parks is no different and really is trying to address the problem by providing a really good bus system at fairly reasonable (but not cheap) prices.

Returning on the upper deck just before the early winter sun set
The backbone 555 bus runs throughout the core of the district and will connect you to the train in Windemere…closed double deck BTW

The buses are reliable, extensive, clean, and even a joy with double deck service on the some lines and 1/2 open top double deck service on two shorter lines through very scenic areas. So the buses really do double as sightseeing and transit for locals and visitors alike.

Yes, it WAS chilly on the open top bus, but the views will keep you warm

The other key is easy payment. The Stagecoach bus system offers payment by any tap cars/Apple Pay, etc for single/day trips or you can buy a loadable smart card right from the driver £1 fee for week or month passes.

Information is key! Most stops had schedules and route info.

We bought the 7 day gold pass form £29 each, which allows unlimited travel on the entire systems, which extends to the coast and all the gateway/border cities of the whole district.

Less sun, more dramatic colors
Walla Crag view on a misty winter day
But the sun was out today!

The only suggestion we would make to the Stagecoach bus system is to make the pass an 8-day or 7+1 trip pass, as many holiday rentals are 7-nights, so you generally have 8 days of travel. We are going to have to buy another day pass for our last day out of the park…. a minor annoyance. Let’s make this an even easier decision for people.

Gourmet Scotch Eggs from the Keswick farmers market are the ultimate winter hiking food

So we highly recommend coming to the Lake District in the winter. Although the transit system runs a little less frequently, and a few of the lines to very remote areas are peak season only, you will have a lot of the typically crowded places to yourself. Just make sure to always bring your waterproofs, and leave the car behind.

The intrepid travelers press on despite some serious hat head

Good Day Sunshine!

Happy New Year everyone! I think 2022 is going to be great. Why? We woke this New Year’s morning to the rarest of sights- sunlight and shadows; the first real sunshine since we stepped out of a taxi at the Marrakech Airport….20 days ago. (Wait, why did we leave Morocco?)

Some early morning sun in Regent’s Park

Apparently December set some sort of record for gloom in the UK; which is saying something. We’ve been leaning into the dark winter, but have a new appreciation for the Northern European lust for sunshine by January…we even started taking Vitamin D last week, and the tanning bed salons looked a little less repulsive to us. A little less.

Soaking up the five minutes of sun in late December!
More New Year’s Day shadows in Regents Park

But New Year’s morning was indeed a glorious London Day and we took full advantage of it by immediately heading up Primrose Hill to take in the beautiful view and then exploring on foot Marylebone down to the heart of the royal parks of St. James, Green, and Hyde Park. And we were just enough ahead of the masses to experience a very peaceful central London.

Cheryl loving the newly improved sidewalks and pedestrian zones of central London.
New Year’s Day Horse Guard preparations. Beautiful horses, but unfortunately no jousting
Easy to get bike shares anywhere in London with a contactless credit card £2/day for unlimited 30 minute trips

We also had some fun conversations with some local youngsters who had been up all night and just about ready to sleep after taking in the sunrise on Primrose Hill. Oh yeah, we’re hip too kids, we just left out the part of going to bed at 10:30!

Warm winter weather means outdoor dining has still been in play.

So thanks to the kindness of some very generous friends, we have spent the past week living a bit like locals in the beautiful North London neighborhood of Primrose Hill.

Great pubs everywhere…this one above Hamstead Heath

It’s been great to explore in all directions by foot, tube, and bike share, as we continue to discover more of the London magic, and the layers of overlapping neighborhoods, pathways, alleys, and mews

Near the highest point in London at Whitestone Pond…easy views through the mostly bare trees.
The atmospheric Hill Garden and Pergola in Golder’s Hill Park

So we had originally planned (and actually had tickets) to go back to France on the train tomorrow, but that’s been postponed at least a few weeks due to non-essential travel border ban from UK imposed due to Omicron.

Modern Hall Park…the southern end of the Northern Line..more typical weather

It’s all quite political as both sides of the channel have massive case loads and spread, so (tested!) travelers are a blip on the trajectory of the pandemic.

These beautiful Egyptian geese were a little too friendly!

We have learned that it’s very important to look at how countries have responded to different phases of the pandemic to understand how new restrictions may be imposed again. (i.e. Morocco!).

Our favorite pastime…canal walking
I will be Cap’n of a canal boat someday…dreaming at the London Canal Museum
Most of the glorious London Area canals used to be off limits until the 1970s…so hope for all the private canal right of ways in the USA.

So instead we have decided to head to the Lake District for a week to do some nice winter hiking, and exploring…but first with a stopover in Liverpool, which has been reborn and is loaded with great museums and sites, in addition to some famous band apparently being from there.

New Year’s Eve takeout noodles in an Islington Pub beer garden.
Riding on in the New Year!

Stay tuned, stay safe, and Happy New Year to all!

Funky Warm Medinas

As we revel in the beautiful scenes that are Paris and London at Christmas, we can’t help be struck by the stark differences in culture, religion, and economic trajectory with Morocco. And as always, we have a renewed appreciation for the happy accident of where we were born and raised.

The very real Medina of Tétouan, vertical and varied life within a larger middle class city

Strangely, the contrast of travel trips synapses in your brain that heightens the experience on both sides of the divide. Our 25 days in Morocco were a sensory overload at times, but a bustling neighborhood in Paris in the run up to Christmas now feels equally disorienting. There is something to be said for fresh eyes to appreciate your culture.

We were always comfortably out of comfort zone in Morocco

The Moroccans we met were almost all kind, generous, and friendly, but the culture is very different. Returning to Paris at Chrismas time was a bit like a bucket of cold water being poured over our heads (challenge !?) Morocco is shaped at its core by the religious norms of Islam, leadership by a constitutional monarch, and a history as regional and nomadic traders. These are not things we have a great context for understanding.

Small squares like this in Marrakech offer more space for informal vendors and a break from the maze of alleys

But as advocates for car-lite living, Morocco offers an amazing glimpse into urban and village life with little motorized support. The Medinas, Kasbah, and Souks of each place we visited had a distinct personality. Some were lightly touched by tourism (such as Tétouan and Meknès), while others, such as Chechaouen had been reimagined in new colors seemingly just to make perfect Instagram photos.

Beautiful Blue Chefchaouen

The larger Medinas, such as Fès and Marrakech are more a hybrid; with tourist influences concentrated to one district (like Jenaa El Fnaa or Bab Boujeloud)

Fes on the jumah (prayer day)…a good time to walk about in relative calm

I think Fès, with its size, extremely narrow alleys, constant dead ends, and some significant slopes and stairs was probably my favorite to observe and explore the real heartbeat of modern medina life.

The magical and endless souks of Fes
Gates and walls control access to the Medinas and huge Kasbah walls limit the chance of invasion…except by tourists

But regardless of the number of tourists in the various medinas, they are all living communities with thousands of residents and thousands more who come to shop, sell, eat, or stroll. The infrastructure often looks precarious and hand methods are frequently the primary construction tool, with small scooter-trucks, hand pushed cart, or donkeys with saddle bags. Nothing is easy, but in land where labor is pretty cheap, and higher end construction materials dear, this is the continued ways in most of the medinas of Morocco.

The Moulay Idriss medina is completely vertical: so most goods still moved by foot and donkey (and Cheryl!)
Lots of hand crafted wood still throughout Morocco
Chief Sewer Inspector

As someone noted in their review of the Riad where we stayed in Fes., “you walk out the door to the Middle Ages” ok, that might be a little of an exaggeration, as cell phones, some refrigeration, and slightly more modern water and sanitation co-exist: And some parts of some Medinas are downright charming and bougie, with boutique hotels, riads, restaurants, and galleries. The vast and complex medinas have their various neighborhood character, just like any city.

Light rays for cats can be precious in winter, but narrow alleys mean less heat and sun the rest of the year
The medina fish market of Essaouira…cats out of view

What makes the medinas so unique now on the planet (and almost all are UNESCO world heritage sites) is that they survived the ravages of 20th century redevelopment. Just outside many Medina walls is the Ville Nouveu, and these vary in charm and layout.

Most of the medinas have some “main streets” that are wider and allow some motorized access for construction and deliveries
Cheryl not smiling at the fairly typical drab streetscapes outside the medinas
But inside, nightime is particularly magical

The rest of Morrocon urban and suburban architecture is focused inward, and therefore does not provide a rich or pleasant streetscape to the more western eye. Even some middle class neighborhoods look downright barren from the outside, as the scale of three story buildings is not in context with often very wide streets. This inward focus is a challenge to a traveler in Morocco, as you generally are on the outside of family life and local culture.

The food souks and services are still at the core of almost every Medina
And so much good food, so close!

But less so in the medinas, where you can experience the typical Riad and often gaze down from rooftops and terraces at the Medina life around you.

Sneaker and Track Suit Alley in Meknès…not much space as each vendor has extended their retail space into the path of travel!
Same space, early morning, encroachments retracted!
And the same Meknes Medina from above…you often wonder how it all works

One of our traveller friends stayed in a room with a family in Morocco for a few days, and that sounded like a great way to get even more insight into “true” Moroccon life. We had some great experiences and especially insightful conversations with Riad and restaurant hosts about the tourism challenges with Omicron our last week as the “only tourists in Morocco”.

Bikes are very popular in Essaouiara, typical of most flat beach towns

We had an exciting journey in Morocco that ended a bit strangely, but we take away the kindness and some of the spirit of so many we met. As with any developing economy, you wish them luck and the good leadership to truly elevate peoples lives. And maybe a bit more help from their American friends.

The happy travelers back in Paris

Moving on in Morocco – we’re still here!

“Salam, Bonjour, Hello!” Morocco’s mixed colonial past and tight relationship with the US makes for a very interesting travel dynamic and has caused me to engage in this hierarchy of greetings. Arabic for respect, French as a backup, and chippy English hello to let them know we are American. We all love each other, right?!

Near Meknès, Moulay Idriss is important in Islam as the site of the tomb of Idris I

After leaving Meknès by train, we settled into a great apartment in the center of Rabat, conveniently just 5 minute from the Rabat Ville train station.

Our beef kebab vendor drumming up business in Moulay Idriss

After Fès, Meknès, and Moulay Idriss, Rabat felt a little like returning to Europe, with a more diverse, prosperous, and international feel. Of course as the capital of Morocco, it has the many trappings of a capital city..embassies, agencies, and fancier restaurants. It also has a vibrant Medina and visible middle class.

Cheryl chasing a donkey in Moulay

Rabat is a good walking city, with fresh Atlantic air and wide sidewalks with one notable addition….more cars. They rule the streets a bit more and have a disturbing habit of parking them willy-nilly across any available space.

The very successful tram system of Rabat – 2 busy modern lines carrying 100k people a day

But for the most part, it is pretty well managed, and traffic across Morocco is pretty light. It feels that they have built a lot of infrastructure in preparation for a future that they have not grown into yet.

France or Morocco?

Everyone with some means or touching the tourism sector is talking about the shutdown of air travel here through the 13th of December. Optimistically, we have a flight booked to London via Madrid for the 14th. We continue to monitor the situation, but don’t expect confirmation that flights will actually resume until later this week at the earliest when maybe more is known globally about Omicron.

New Instagram contacts in Meknès!

The Moroccan government has taken COVID very seriously and had good success at stemming the cases and deaths over the past 21 months; however, this means there is a strong chance that the travel ban is extended. When that happens, we will then be stuck in Morocco, but not trapped, as this is an amazing country with lots to discover and enjoy, with almost no tourists. Strange times indeed.

The early evening stroll in Rabat

The embassy has sent one notice via the STEP (safe traveler program) system which we signed up for prior to coming to Morocco. It just had a list of some outgoing flights that were scheduled until the 6th. Most are filled, cancelled, or outrageously expensive, so we are sticking to our hope that we will have more options in a week or two… slight anxiety, but manageable.

The olive oil presses keep Morocco running and is always fresh and delicious
The amazing ruins of Volubilis, a once thriving village at the limits of the Roman empire …prosperity based on olive oil of course.

So we continue to explore historic sites, museums, and eat as much as we can to make up for the lack of other tourists. While many Moroccan museums can still use some better curation (and funding no doubt) there are some gems. The King Mohammed VI museum of contemporary art in Rabat is one of these, with 2 great exhibitions, and permanent Moroccan and African modern art galleries.

Very modern Moroccan art

The range, depth, and voices portrayed in art from the continent was particularly fascinating to us, as it’s not something you see covered much in Euro-Anglo museums. The building is also beautiful. A bargain at $2 and arguably a better experience than the Louvre crowd madness.

“The Horse” by famous Colombian Fernando Botero at Museum of Modern Art in Rabat.

We also made the better part of a sunny Wednesday heading out to the National Zoo. It’s a great zoo with surprising infrastructure and vast open area for many of the African animals, both those endemic to Morocco and the more transitional central and South African Savannah creatures.

Stare off at the Rabat Zoo

A word of caution, we took a small blue taxi out there as it’s 5km from central Rabat, but it was not easy finding a taxi (or bus) back! We walked about 1.5 miles along a busy road (sidewalks yes, taxis no) and finally were able to flag one at the edge of an 8-lane arteial. Just in time, as our marital travel bliss was fraying with this challenge.

If we can’t get home, there is always Lemur Island at the zoo

We liked Rabat and our apartment a lot, so extended to 4 nights and actually felt a little sad leaving for our onward adventures. But we decided to head to the coastal “surf/beach” city of Essaouria by 4 hour trian to Marrakech, and Supratours bus for 3- hour final leg.

Transfer to the bus in Marrakech…are we in Phoenix or Las Vegas?

You buy Supratours bus with the trains ticket and they are run by same National rail service, ONCF, similar to Amtrak thruway buses in the US. The train ride was really nice at 60-100 mph and allowed our first glimpse of the more arid south and the dramatic High Atlas Mountains south of Marrakech. Lots of snow across the whole range!

Relaxing on the train to Marrakech

We have now arrived in Essaouira and checked into our first apartment, which is nicely equipped and comfortable but no sun or views, so we will be moving tomorrow to a place on the edge of the Medina with ocean views. The uncertainty of our times has pushed us to seek some comfort and perks due to the lack of tourists.

We keep exploring and the world spins on

Stay tuned for updates and let’s hope Omicron doesn’t cause much more misery in the world. Collective fingers crossed.