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.

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 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.

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.

Being tourists in our own country.

We remind ourselves frequently how fortunate we are. There are bumps along the road of constant travel, but when you get to wake up somewhere new and look around with fresh eyes, with no work thoughts or worries looming in your mind, it’s a revelation. The things you notice, the things you appreciate, take on an extra clarity.

Chicago with our good friends Michelle and Alan.

We’re lucky to have friends in Chicago who also know how to appreciate where you are. Michelle and Alan never tire of exploring and experiencing their own city.

The Berghoff, a Chicago institution. One that well deserves its storied reputation – first to be issued a liquor license post prohibition – everything we ordered for lunch was quite good.
What to do on a cold day? The Chicago Art Institute.

After a lovely time in Chicago we flew to Denver, caught the bus to Boulder and spent time with my brother and had dinner with one of our wonderful nieces.

Charlie Kitty helping to keep me warm on a sunny but chilly Colorado day.
The snow helped us find even more beauty.
The horses might not enjoy the snow as much as we did.
With my brother Steve. The snow was melting away as we left to head across the Rockies to Grand Junction.
Scratching our itch for Mexican food. A fortifying taco stop in Golden, Colorado.

One thing we miss a lot when traveling is good Mexican food. Once in the rental car for the drive to Grand Junction it was easy enough to stop for an early lunch. Xicamiti La Taquería Bistro for the win. We were headed to help out with my sister’s animals while she traveled for work. Our house and pet sitting skills came in handy.

The view hiking from Pollock Bench trailhead, Fruita Colorado.
Snack stop spots of the world.
No matter how often we see the red rock canyons of Colorado the formations are stunning.
Tasha the big guard dog, and the setting sun lighting up the book cliffs.
Barn cats enjoying the sun. And waiting for food.
Everyone gets in on the sunset photo shoot.
“What? Am I not a cow?”
Checking out the newest brew pub in Fruita.
Tasha looks calm and cool here, but when she saw a fox and tried to take off after it, I was happy Rich was in control of the leash.
Thank you Colorado. We got our Covid booster from a lovely team on this bus.
My sister came home and brought back the newest addition to her household. 12 week old Lorelei.
The happy travelers looking forward to a family Thanksgiving.

I do think Thanksgiving is a fantastic holiday. Spending time with your family or family of choice, Friendsgiving, and lots of yummy food – that’s my idea of fun. We’ll be off to visit friends in Palm Springs, visiting family in Moorpark, and then back to SF for two weeks. Happy Thanksgiving all.

Lisbon attitude adjustment.

Rich surveying the city on our way to the train station.

How much does your mental state affect your enjoyment of a place? For us in Lisbon the answer was ‘a lot’. Our mental and physical states had taken a beating by the time we got to our apartment hotel and made an initial grocery run. The positive Covid tests the first morning certainly didn’t help. Sometimes when traveling you just have to give yourself a mental shake, a stern talking to, and push through an attitude adjustment.

The Citymapper city logos make me smile every time.

You head out looking for beauty. Shake off your negative attitude and stride out, well, kind of limp out in our case. Spending two or three days inside while we tested positive didn’t help. Thankfully the rain made it easier to just hang out. A short careful walk, a quick masked grocery store run, and more resting – that was the extent of our first few days in Lisbon.

A framed and borrowed view.
Starting to notice the white walls and colored flowers.
Oh yes, this is helping my beaten down Covid brain.
The small streets are quiet and charming.

The mosaic sidewalks and plazas of Lisbon are beautiful. Under your feet is craftsmanship of a high quality.

The black basalt worked into the white limestone. Stunning.
It is called calçada portuguesa or simply calçada.

The calçada has a lot of positives, in addition to being beautiful it can adapt to uneven ground, or rise and fall with tree roots without cracking like concrete.

The calçada around the tree wells is not level., but still intact.
Tree roots becoming part of the paving.
Stopping to appreciate the work and imagine what a tough job this is, to piece together a mosaic sidewalk.

The slightly undulating calçada, and the diamond pattern made me feel as if I were walking on a giant snake. (Imaginative or Covid brain?)

You see the snakeskin pattern?
When this snakeskin gets wet – watch out!

We had some rain while in Lisbon, and that brought out the negative side of limestone snakeskin sidewalks- they get so slippery! We quickly learned to judge how slippery a stretch was likely to be based on how polished the white stones looked. The more shine, the higher your chance of losing your footing. If the sidewalks had the black basalt squares they were less slippery, or your foot wouldn’t slide as far since it would come into contact with a black stone and stop.

Slippery and in need of repair.

Apparently there just aren’t as many craftspeople available to keep the sidewalks in good shape, which means you have situations like the above photo. When it’s rainy people tend to walk in the street to stay upright. The car drivers seem quite used to it, but it’s still uncomfortable to have to watch out for cars while picking your way along the cobbled street.

Certainly not slippery. We didn’t get to see this street during a rainy period but I imagine it drains well.

Even with our positive mental attitude firmly in place we just could not enjoy walking around Lisbon. The sidewalks are simply too narrow, and not in great repair. In the more modern part of town, upslope, the traffic signals are set in favor of moving car traffic which means long long waits for pedestrians to get a crossing signal. The intersections can be huge, with so much extra pavement that car drivers have the ability to whip around corners at fairly high speed. We haven’t seen any of what we call Covid-era street improvements like we see in so many other cities, where street space has been reapportioned to give pedestrians and bikes more space, and increase safety.

That’s a narrow sidewalk. Not much that can be done here with the streetcar tracks.
A beautiful sidewalk. The more historic downtown area has sidewalks in better repair.
What can cheer up some slightly cranky post Covid travelers? A lovely lunch with adult beverages.
Lisbon really is beautiful. All those tourists can’t be wrong about that.

Part of our sour attitudes definitely came from the fact that a planned 3 night stay turned into 8 nights. Our positive Covid tests, coupled with the challenge of re-booking our flights on TAP airlines, kept us in town for the longest stretch we’ve spent in an A list tourist city since Copenhagen for the start of the Tour de France. We’re not always huge fans of A list cities, as they expose the negatives of concentrated tourism.

Keep that positive mental attitude going. A lovely almost 3 hour lunch in Cascais, a short train ride from Lisbon. We chatted for ages with a super nice Canadian/British couple at the next table.
Symmetrical potbellied trees. I think they are Queensland Bottle trees. Whatever they are – cute!
Rooster joining our coffee break.

Since this was our second time in Lisbon we do know one place that is guaranteed to make us smile. Parque Infantil da praça das Flores. We first visited this park on a trip to Cervecta Lisboa, in search of craft beer. We walked here from our Covid hotel nest/room and sat and enjoyed the calm. After testing negative we came and sat in the park with beer from the Cervecta. The calm attitude towards alcohol in parks, with kiosks offering coffee, snacks and drinks, and the local cafes allowing you to take your drink out to the park, is wonderful. It ensures there are always people around enjoying the parks. I would always rather sit in a park.

A happy traveler. You can see the kiosk in the background, and the beer place is to the left of the park.
Cheers to our favorite park.
Tired of beer? The kiosk has wine in little reusable plastic cups.
The happy travelers. Negative tests and ready to move on.

Farewell Lisbon, we intend to come back to Portugal and explore the B and C places, get off the beaten track a bit and spread the tourist love. Our travel world was not done throwing us curveballs yet, though. More on that in the next post from Brooklyn, NY.

Zarutz to Bilbao on the Camino del Norte.

The view after climbing out of Deba.

Is the Camino del Norte tough? Yes! Yes it is. Long days and lots of up and down. Add to that some rocky, muddy, rain soaked trails and you have long days that feel even harder than 15 miles/24 kilometers should.

An ancient stone road out of Zarautz.
Looking back towards Zarautz.
Cecily making friends with calf number 2570.
The churches with wide verandas made excellent places to stop and rest, this one is near Getaria.
A well placed vending machine was also a good place for a break.
Taking advantage of a farm cider opportunity did not make the remaining distance to Deba any easier.
After so much up and down on steep slippery trails, the public elevators of Deba were a very welcome sight.
These boat owners must be very sure footed. Deba harbor.

We had cloudy weather, but still mild. We hiked in some light rain, and some nice sun. It warmed up as our week went on, and by the time some of us hiked all the way into Bilbao on Saturday, it was warm. 80f/26c

Rocks left in memory and honor of lost loved ones.
The mountains provide a stunning backdrop.

Wait, some of us hiked into Bilbao? Yes some of us. One of us, me, Cheryl, ended up with tendinitis in my left foot. The day from Guernica to Zamudio was increasingly painful so I took a train the last short day to Bilbao, with Cecily.

Happy travelers leaving Altzaa.
A classic Camino photo. Happy to have four pairs of feet on this journey.
The days can be very long, but the company is great.
You look up and see a postcard perfect scene.
Over old stone bridges.
And by historic churches. I was wishing for a suspension bridge across this valley, but what a view back to the church.
Some of the cats are petable. Thank you for the photo Christine.
Leaving Guernica with smiles all around.
Our fearless leader.
The downhill was really starting to hurt my foot. But still smiling.
Last morning in Zamudio. Two of us are smiling because we’re headed for the train! Cecily is feeling run down and joined me on the train. Rich and Christine are looking forward to the hike into Bilbao.
Ticket to ride. Me and my bad foot.
Masks still required on public transit in Spain. Enjoying moving but not hiking.
Cecily enjoying the view.
The Camino route comes right past our hotel so Cecily went out to meet our Pilgrims, Christine and Rich.
Recovering with tea and wine. Ibuprofen and ice and rest came next.
Thank you Cecily and Christine for the Camino time with us.

When we decided to leave San Francisco and travel it was our hope we would be able to meet up with friends and go on adventures together. This was an adventure, and we were so happy to share it with such good friends. Christine and I met the first day at University a good many years ago. The joy of long time friends.

The happy travelers in Bilbao old town.

Rich and I will be in Lisbon next, after a few days enjoying Bilbao with Christine and Cecily, and on to New York City and New England. Visiting friends and family there and in Chicago, and then, Thanksgiving with family. Looking forward to that very much. Happy fall.

Hello Pilgrims. Camino del Norte, Irún to Zarautz.

It’s nice to be welcomed.

We’ve been talking about doing the Camino Del Norte for years, ever since we did the Camino Inglés and loved it. So here we are. Rich and I started in Irún and we met our friends Christine and Cecily in San Sebastián, and from there we will all walk to Bilbao.

Beer tap at a galatian restaurant in Irún. That octopus looks shocked. Probably because he’s on the menu.
Heading out of Irún, up to the Hermitage of Guadalupe.
On the ridge with an ocean view.

We won’t be going all the way to Santiago this time. Time constraints. But we are thrilled to be able to hike with friends.

Views like this are the reward for the climbs. Looking back down into Irún.
Our first night in Pasai Donibane, just across from the larger city of Pasaia
The scene in Pasai Donibane. Pretty quiet. Very scenic.
Breakfast in Pasai Donibane, see that yellow arrow on the wall? That’s a Camino marker. We follow those.
A pedestrian ferry across the harbor.
A nice start to the day, being ferried across.
A steep start to the actual walking.
Ah. Reward view.
Smiles on arriving in San Sebastián. Look at that water. And smiles because…
Friends arrive! So happy to be together in Spain with good friends.
We went on a food tour – yes, I was excited by the cheesecake stop.
Bar hopping with drinks and pintxos.
The Happy Pilgrims. Ready to leave San Sebastián.
The way can be rocky.
The way is frequently beautiful.
Pilgrims on the road ahead.
All the happy travelers in Zarautz, Spain.

Not many words in this post. The day gets away from you with 13 miles of walking, a lot of catching up to do, and tired legs to rest. Buen Camino!