Edinburgh has our hearts. Bring your walking boots.

Castle tour on a grey day. So lucky to have family to spend time with.

Edinburgh is a delightful city. The hills and stairways remind us of San Francisco- but with very different architecture. To see gothic spires dark against a cloudy sky, and the castle lit up with red lights as you turn to look back climbing a staircase reminds us how lucky we are to be traveling, even with the added challenges.

Who cares about a little rain? Not us. And not the locals apparently, not many umbrellas in sight, just jackets with hoods.

We’ve been in an apartment near Grassmarket with my sister and her youngest daughter, and what a joy to get to spend so much time with them, to light the fire after long walks and all curl up with books.

Dramatic skies from Arthur’s Seat, the ancient volcano.
Rich and I took a bus ride out to Pentland Hills for a hike.
For years we’ve had a running joke about Scottish trail builders not believing in switchbacks. And here we are, going straight up the mountain.
As we climbed the fog thickened and the distant views were cloaked, but that made us notice the smaller vignettes instead.
Ice on the barbed wire.
Iced over grass.
Beautiful colors and my intrepid travel planner.

Even with COVID crimping plans a bit (no pub fireside sitting this trip) with all of us boosted and being cautious we did some indoor activities, such as tea at The Dome. An early time slot meant we were mostly alone. The Dome was decorated enough to satisfy even my love for Christmas cheer.

The former bank building takes a lot of garlands.
The Christmas tree at the bar does not disappoint. And there’s the dome.
Oh yes, there trays of yummy food.

In keeping with these COVID times we did stick to mostly outdoor activities. Please don’t think that’s a hardship in a place as beautiful as Scotland. In a city as dramatic as Edinburgh you want to spend a lot time exploring and stopping to look around.

Dean Village on the Water of Leith. My fellow happy travelers.
The Dean Bridge.

Traveling with a civil engineer means there will be pauses to admire impressive infrastructure. ”The bridge was one of the last major works before retirement of the bridge designer, civil engineer Thomas Telford, and was completed in 1831 when he was seventy-three years old.”

Edinburgh Castle from the western kirkyard shortcut – avoids the climb over the mound.
The wall of whiskey at The Drinkmonger. Another safe activity is buying and drinking whiskey.
No such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. Rich shows how it’s done.
Greyfriars Kirkyard. Love the drama of bare branches against a grey sky.
The Happy Travelers on Arthur’s Seat. Fog light is quite flattering.

Today we bid farewell to Scotland and head to London for a week. After that, who knows. We’re eyeing a few places in the UK to do some hiking, or, if France decides folks coming from the UK can again enter France, back to Paris. Stay safe friends and family. Wherever we are we will stay safe as well.

How to have fun in the UK while staying safe? Stay outside.

The Tower Bridge and the recently boostered travelers.

The Eurostar from Paris to London delivered us to a world where Omicron was causing worry and rising cases. Our first task was our required COVID test, and our next task was to find a place to get our booster shots. A bit of on line searching led us to Guys St. Thomas hospital, some standing in line and some waiting in chairs, and two hours later we were boosted.

The unassuming site of our boosters. There was no charge even for foreigners, so we went on line and donated money to the hospital.

While we wait the seven days for our immune systems to ramp up their responses we stay out in the fresh, healthy, bracing, clean, cold, brisk outside.

Family! So lucky to have these two to spend time with. Walking the Regents Canal.
We visit outdoor beer gardens and order pizza, bundled up.
Order your pizza and meet their bicycle delivery person out front.
Walking on Hampstead Heath, the view from Parliament Hill.
Pint of cider at lunch in another pub garden.
Take out dinner in our hotel room. The glamorous side of travel during COVID. This made me feel for everyone who has quarantined in a hotel room during the time of COVID.
Masked up, windows open, enjoying the top deck of a London bus.

No lie, it freaks us out to see pubs and restaurants full of unmasked people enjoying themselves in London. We watch the COVID numbers rise and retreat even further into our safe behavior. With our Christmas plans shifting and changing we get on the tube and to the train station to head to Edinburgh.

Early Sunday tube ride.
The numbers of transit riders are down again in this new wave of Omicron.
At Kings Cross Station to get on a train to Edinburgh.
Auld Reekie. Edinburgh. Hello.
The Happy Travelers out in the fresh air of Scotland.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and stay safe all.

Last tourists out of Morocco, please report to the airport.

A very empty Marrakech airport. It is a beautiful airport.

How quiet was the Marrakech airport on December 12th, 2021? Birds. We could hear the chirping of little birds who had snuck into the terminal. We heard and saw them in the uncrowded check in hall, in the line-less security area, and out at the empty gates. They were flying around, perching on ductwork and light fixtures, and scouring the area for crumbs. With so few travelers they weren’t having much luck finding food. Flights had been curtailed for two weeks already, and the Kingdom had just announced an additional travel ban through the end of December.

Two days before, up in the Atlas Mountains. Still thinking our Dec. 14th flight would be flying.

A few days earlier we had rented a car in Marrakech after arriving via bus from Essaouira to spend two nights up in Inmil. We wanted to see the splendor of the Atlas Mountains. While out hiking on our first chilly morning in the mountains we got an e-mail from the US State Department telling Americans still in Morocco to leave or risk being stuck. Almost immediately on the heels of that email came one canceling our December 14th flight. Uh oh.

The travel planner springs into action. Out of the photo is the cell phone tower which made this quick action possible.

Rich got a flight booked after a tense bit of time with all operating airlines websites failing to work, and flights already booking up. Relieved, but not completely comfortable, we quickly hightailed it back to our Riad to pack and get back on the road. We needed to get a COVID test that day or early the next morning in order to be able to fly to Paris.

One last fun interaction with these young girls coming home from school who were thrilled to practice their French with us.

Our division of driving labor is Rich driving and me navigating. We made it down from the mountains and through Marrakech to the COVID test center with only one bobble. A slightly tricky trip down a crowded market street to get back on the main road on the correct side of the lab to park the car. That doesn’t sound as stressful as it was, with Rich having to thread the rental car between scooters, vendor carts, and pedestrians. We returned the rental car and Rich booked us in to the thankfully nearby Raddison Hotel. If ever there was a time to check into a comfort hotel this was it.

Waiting for our room while relaxing by the pool.

Oh yes, I failed to mention I was on the rocky road of food poisoning, with the worst yet to come. The distraction of scrambling to divert plans kept me propped up until the next day when I succumbed and took to bed.

Jardin Majorelle-Yves Saint Laurent Mansion. My only outing in Marrakech.
After this photo Rich put me in a taxi back to the hotel and headed out solo.
Jemaa el-Fnaa square. Normally packed with visitors, very quiet as viewed by Rich during his second breakfast.
Bahia Palace also eerily empty.

Once again we could feel the sense of despair from all the hospitality workers, knowing that no more visitors were able to come to Morocco. The taxi driver to the airport failed to turn the meter on and we didn’t even bother to protest or haggle, just paid, tipped, and wished him well. We were likely his last tourists for some time.

A few days short of our planned four weeks, but thanks to Rich’s amazing planning skills we saw a lot of Morocco.

While waiting in line at the airport to check in and check bags we struck up a conversation with a lovely mother son traveling duo who had come to Marrakech to spend three months and were also heading out early due to the shut down. We had managed to complete almost our entire hoped for itinerary, so we left with no regrets – except my food poisoning. They were headed to Bangkok via Paris and Amsterdam and had a 14 day quarantine to look forward to in Bangkok.

On the way to security screening. No crowd. Me keeping it together for travel day. Just.
Marrakesh Menara Airport’s gorgeous ceiling. In 2019 it handled over 6.3 million visitors.

And here we are in Paris. Another one of those culture shock travel days completed. Doing COVID testing and entry paperwork for each leg of our trip back to the UK adds another level of frustration to travel in the age of COVID. Rich keeps track of the ever changing regulations and makes sure we have printed copies for airport days. I’m sure the challenge of the paperwork and the cost of the testing is putting a lot folks off travel. We took a deep breath in Paris and enjoyed the Christmas feel I was missing in Morocco, before we dove back into on-line forms and registration of tests to get to the UK. Next stop, London and then Edinburgh.

The happy travelers in Paris, on to the next chocolate shop!

Stay safe , and Happy Holidays all.

It’s getting awkward…

Hello empty restaurant, we will be your only lunch customers.

Morocco welcomes about 6 million tourists a year, per 2019 numbers. That’s an average of 17,000 per day. When we arrived in November to Tangier we could tell that numbers were low, tourism was just picking up, but there were other tourists. Other folks at our Riad, other slightly stunned faces getting lost in the Medina, other tables at restaurants occupied by non locals.

Rich enjoying a lovely meal in Essaouira. One other group showed up at what is, according to reviews, a very popular and busy farm to table restaurant.

When the travel ban to Morocco was announced and the borders closed to incoming flights on November 30th, the numbers of other tourists started going down, and of course was not replenished. We were in Meknes when that news came, and we could tell the mood soured at the Riads and restaurants which had made themselves tourist friendly, only to be told once again they would be without tourists, without a livelihood.

The proprietor was very gracious and explained the limited menu being served. We were the only ones again.

Moroccans are some of the most welcoming and friendly people you will meet. It hurts us to see the numbers of travelers going down and down as folks find flights out, like a lovely Canadian brother and sister we met, or the nice guy from the UK who was on a 10 day trip. It’s more noticeable in a town like Essaouira, which is a very popular town with travelers and tourists.

The Medina is always interesting, and people were only kind and helpful.
The smart Medina cat sleeps by the large bags of cat food.

There is a sweet spot of travel which we seek out and love – not too crowded, off peak or shoulder season, places are open but not busy, locals aren’t overwhelmed with visitors – this is not that time. This is too empty. Restaurants not opening because why bother? Vendors with no tourist customers and no tourist money coming in. It feels awkward to be the only customers in a restaurant, the only non locals strolling the shop lined Medina streets. We feel so bad for the economic hit being taken and wish we could somehow make up for the missing thousands of tourists, but of course we can’t. So we are extra nice, we tip extra large, and inside we cringe.

This one looks like they take no nonsense from anyone, cat or human.
After six days in Essaouira Rich had committed the “grid” to memory. I just followed him.

We feel totally safe here, COVID numbers are low, vaccination rates are high, but we do hope that our planned December 14th flight out will happen, and Morocco will be down two more tourists. We’ve already decided that if for some reason we don’t get out, we’ll go to Rabat again, which is a city that doesn’t depend on tourists and where we could just live life without feeling so awkward.

Awkwardly happy travelers.

It’s an interesting and challenging time to be traveling. We knew that COVID wasn’t done with the world yet, and we had discussed a scenario such as this. Stay safe all, we’ve left the coast and are heading for the Atlas Mountains.

Essaouira easy life.

The travel planner leaping into the sunset.

Easy but not completely stress free. Although we have no jobs or children to get back to, and our friends and family will understand if we miss Christmas in the UK, it’s an odd feeling, not knowing if things will ease up or tighten down. Will we go or will we stay.

Horse and hounds and kite surfing.

We’re in an apartment in the Medina with a gorgeous view and a treacherous staircase. We go up and down saying big step, little step, medium, big, medium, medium, small – oh, big! It’s almost but not quite spiral to add to the fun. We look out to the ocean and the ramparts which were used in Game of Thrones. The rooftop terrace offers another stunning view, but the wind which makes Essaouira a windsurfing hot spot also makes terrace life a bit tricky. My glasses almost got swept off the table and out to sea.

Wine glass holding firm against the wind on the rooftop terrace of the second apartment.
Somewhere along these ramparts the Mother of Dragons did her thing.
Sunday morning at low tide there were so many Football games going on. The wide beach at low tide is a great games field.
Another beautiful sunset.
We spend some time watching the tides.
We spend time on the beach.
We spend time greeting kitties in the Kasbah.
The view from our living room where we sit and read. Rich’s feet added for scale.
Essaouira. Sure is easy on the eyes, say these happy travelers.

We head to Marrakech in a few days, and maybe on a flight on to the UK a few days after that. Rich is busy figuring out what the current requirements are, and where and when to get our COVID tests. But for now we are happy here in Essaouira, eating good food, going on beach walks, and enjoying our little apartment.

Why so blue Chefchaouen?

A view of the blue city from a hike out of town.

When you get to Chefchaouen you will hear and read various reasons for the blue walls, blue walkways, and blue fences. The color was brought with the Jewish refugees from Spain, the color keeps the mosquitoes away, it was discovered in the 70s to be a tourist draw – but I know the real reason. It’s a fantastic backdrop for photographing cats.

Grey and white tabby stripes look good against periwinkle blue.
Vibrant blue makes this little black kitten stand out.
White is dramatic.
A calico, a blue door, and colorful hardware.
Cats colonized every comfortable spot.
Blue blue blue – cat!
Who is fascinated with who?
Some are petable.
They sit on boxes.
They sit on trash cans.
They relax and enjoy life.
Happy travelers above the blue city.

We’re currently in Fes, headed to Meknes.

Two fun trips from Tetouan.

Tetouan seems not to be on the main tourist route here in Morocco, which is a shame. We had four great days here, enough time to fully explore the Medina, and the new town, and take two trips out of the city proper.

Our first was an afternoon trip via taxi (16 MAD, about 15 minutes, we tipped by rounding up to 20) across the river and up the hills to be dropped off near Café Ba Imran. There are some roads to walk along both in the pine trees to the left with your back to the view, and along the mountain road to the right. Tetouan has some hiking gold still to embrace. All it would take is some marked trails in the Rif mountains and tourists like us would flock in the cooler months, and summer for the tougher travelers, to hike up and marvel at the views. End with a mint tea at the cafe and then walk back down the way the taxi came up and you will catch another taxi in no time. Especially on a weekend when this is a popular family spot. We took the smaller yellow taxis and found the drivers were friendly and didn’t haggle over the price. We did have a local help us tell the driver where to go on the outbound trip. Holding up the iPhone map might have worked as well, but friendly locals to the rescue again.

The view back to town.
A walk along a road under construction.

Our hill walking trip was fun and uneventful, but our next day trip was super fun and eventful. And beautiful. And eye opening.

Rich and the rental car.

We had read on another blog that renting a car and driving the coast road to El Jebha was a nice day trip out of town. Thank you other blogger whom I cannot find right now. Rich did some research and found a well recommended, responsive, and nearby rental agency, so off we went on Monday morning to drive in Morocco. This might not be a big deal for some travelers who rent cars a lot, but we prefer to travel by bus, train, or under our own power, and I don’t drive much at all so the driving falls to Rich. Thankfully we both know how to drive manual transmissions which is what you tend to get when renting outside the US.

We saw lovely promenades along beautiful but empty beaches. Oued Laou is a summer hot spot we suspect, but quiet on a November Monday.
We had a second breakfast near the beach.
We drove along enjoying the sights and marveling at how quickly the rural areas started.
The road was obviously an important economic link for locals. There were not many cars but many people walking and shared rides/taxis in old Mercedes sedans.
A lunch of grilled fish in El Jebha.
The grilled fish was delicious.
The oceanfront restaurant had us at pink tablecloths and potted plants.

Well, we thought after lunch as we turned around to drive the winding steep road back to Tetouan, this is working out really well. Cue laughter. We stopped to get petrol on the way back and Rich moved the car from the pumps to outside the toilets.

Yup.

When he got back in to start up again, the clutch failed. That car was not going to start or move. The makings of a panicked situation? Disaster? A big mess? No. The owner of the rental agency had a tow truck to us 20 minutes after Rich sent a WhatsApp. We shared our location, sat down for a glass of mint tea ready to wait, and Abdul was there with a tow truck in short order. Thankfully we were at a petrol station when the clutch failed, not on a narrow or steep stretch of road with no cell signal. That might have been a disaster.

Relief, and the realization that we were going to get a ride in the tow truck.

What could have been a pretty awful situation turned into another opportunity to chat with a local in a mix of Spanish and English. Abdul drove with a local radio station playing, we chatted, Rich got to enjoy the view as a passenger, the sunset was beautiful and all was well.

Riding high.
The view through the windshield.

When unexpected things happen we put on our Rick Steves voice and say “Just think of it as another opportunity to connect with locals and have a different experience.”.

The happy travelers enjoying the coast before our tow truck trip.

We’re now in Chefchaouen and then on to Fes. Happy Thanksgiving to our American friends and family.

Morocco, four nights in.

The vista from a Medina rooftop in Tetouan.

Our first stop in Morocco was Tangier for two nights. Our friend Dan (Hi Dan!) provided great advice – don’t book your first night in the Medina – so hard to find and if you arrive from the airport via taxi they can’t drop you at the door of your place. Finding your way to a location in the Medina can be hard/impossible/frustrating/overwhelming.

On the edge of the Medina in Tangier. The 15th century Portuguese fort wall looking nice in the sunset. This was the view the from our guesthouse terrace.

Moroccan people are super friendly and feel a particular bond with Americans, the diplomatic history goes back to the 1786 Moroccan–American Treaty of Friendship.

Tombeaux Phéniciens, Tangier. On a bright, windy Sunday.
One day in and I already felt that I was 10% mint tea. And I was happy about that.
A sweet shop. Where to start?
Upper left corner and work our way along. All delicious.
Oh yes, there are many cats in the Medina.
Lunch time and juice time. Mint citron on the left, orange on the right.

After two nights in Tangier we hopped a bus to Tetouan, about an hour away. We had to take a taxi to the bus station and we were reminded of a valuable travel tip in Muslim countries – Friday is the holy day when the afternoon prayers are a huge draw, emptying the streets of men and therefore taxi drivers. We left a lot of time to get to the bus station via taxi, and with some unsolicited help from a local (small monetary tip, why not, he did help) we got a taxi and made our bus with plenty of time to spare.

Tetouan on a dramatic cloudy day.

Tetouan is not a big tourist town, and the locals, for the most part, seem to take pride in not making a big deal about tourists. You can stroll the ancient Medina with only the occasional accidental tour guide, and get genuinely helpful directions. The best tip we were given was to look for the center stones in the narrow alleys for some guidance: 3 stones is a main street leading to a gate where you can exit the Medina, 2 stones means a lesser street leading to a main street, 1 stone – dead end residential street. I say street, but they are small alleys, no cars here.

Children run free in the Medina streets. Note the 2 stones in the center. Small street which will lead to a main street.

And those accidental tour guides? They sometimes are focused on getting you to a shop, sometimes really just helping. But you do end up seeing some interesting things when you pick up your accidental tour guide. Being firmly polite and friendly works just fine when you’ve had enough and want to leave. It may take a few tries to lose your new friend but they will ultimately say goodbye after you thank them.

Men working a loom. No hard sell from anyone, just a slice of life thanks to our accidental tour guide.
The product for sale.
Guided through the ancient tannery by our ATG.
Tannery cat!
A pharmacy in a lovely old building. Thank you ATG.

Even if you come to Morocco with zero intentions to buy a beautiful Moroccan rug you will end up in a rug shop at some point. We did, thanks to our ATG. Since we have no home right now and all our worldly possessions are in a storage unit we did not succumb to the temptation. But I can understand why people buy rugs here: they are gorgeous. I’m partial to the flat weave rugs, and who knows – a small rug may end up in our luggage.

.

Rich and our friendly accidental tour guide. He took us to a great view spot, tried to get us into a closed museum by knocking repeatedly on the door, and we finally said goodbye, happy to have met.

We think we hit a sweet spot here in Morocco when locals are happy to have tourists back, there are not many of us yet, and not yet tired of the problems that tourists can bring. We are happy to be here and the locals seem happy to have us here.

Happy travelers looking forward to more time in Morocco.

Seville

Of course I start with an orange tree.

I had heard that the street trees in Seville are orange trees, Seville orange trees, the bitter oranges used to make marmalade, but I hadn’t expected quite so many orange trees.

Oranges and moorish architecture.

How many oranges trees? Reports vary, 14,000? 25,000? They do well in the climate and provide shade year round. Important in the hot summer months.

Orange trees surround a peaceful plaza.

The city employs people to gather the dropped oranges, and recently has started using the fruit to create electricity through fermentation. Most Seville oranges grown in the region are exported to Britain to make marmalade. But there are plenty on the streets here for youngsters to use as impromptu footballs. The scent of blossoms must be lovely in the spring.

I did my best to help out, having marmalade with breakfast and buying chocolate covered orange peels.

We also did our best on the tapas front. Vegetarians look away. Wandering the narrow streets we looked for small places where we could sit outside or in a window and watch the street life. One spot took us 3 evenings to get into, it was very small. The first evening we went at 8pm – ha! Good luck. The second evening we tried at 6:30, nope – already full. Finally we got there at 5:50 and scored a table in a window.

Note the jamón legs hanging above the bar.
Jamón ibérico. Now hanging out on our table.
We did it, got into the tiny bar.

Mission accomplished and appetites calmed we headed out to a flamenco performance on International Flamenco Day. It was just an hour long and stunning.

They wisely forbade photos until the very end when they said photograph away. I imagine it would be super distracting to look out at the audience and see phones held aloft.

We walked. And walked. And walked the narrow streets. Some so small I could touch both walls, some wider with cars just squeezing through, tires squealing as they slowly hit the curbs.

No cars here.
Rich added for scale. The narrow street leading to our hotel.
I need to start asking for a different pose.
Ah, there we go. Jumping for joy in a car free street.
Lunch outside in the Triana district.
Happy travelers. Off to Morocco next.

West Sussex in Autumn

The edge of an island.

Once again we are so thankful to have friends to visit and stay with. Would we have done this amazing coastal walk without our generous friends having us to stay and spending a day driving to the trailhead at Birling Gap and hiking with us? Probably not, and we’re so glad we got to see this coastline on a sunny day.

To my eyes it looks as if a giant ripped the edge off the land.
When hiking somewhere with amazing geology try to go with two world class geologists. You certainly learn a lot.
And if there is a calm Labrador along, all the better. Lunch break on the way to Cuckmere Haven.
Tide going out. Not far enough to walk back along the beach though. No desire to chance being caught.
The walk back was through woods and fields. Better then getting caught by the tide.
Arundel Castle, beautiful and the site of an audacious heist in May 2021 of Mary Queen of Scots rosary beads, carried to her execution in 1587. Folks arrested, but where is the loot?
Public footpaths for the win!
Waiting for one of the four trains it took us to get to our friends (rerouted due to previous‘incident’. It would have been only two trains if we’d transited through London, but Rich loves a travel challenge.
As I’ve mentioned before, our car free travel in the UK is facilitated by friends willing to pick us up and drop us off at various train stations. We appreciate it so much.
Gazing with adoring eyes. Or, just hoping for breakfast?