21 years car free, 11 years serving on transit boards helping SF and Caltrain move forward, and now, traveling the world. Happy doesn’t begin to describe how I feel when traveling with my hubby TravelRich.
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.
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.
Our hill walking trip was fun and uneventful, but our next day trip was super fun and eventful. And beautiful. And eye opening.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”.
We’re now in Chefchaouen and then on to Fes. Happy Thanksgiving to our American friends and family.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mission accomplished and appetites calmed we headed out to a flamenco performance on International Flamenco Day. It was just an hour long and stunning.
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.
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.
“Alice Hawkins was a leading English suffragette among the boot and shoe machinists of Leicester. She went to prison five times for acts committed as part of the Women’s Social and Political Union militant campaign.” Five times to prison. That is commitment and bravery. Is that what we all need to do to force action on climate change?
Our niece picked us up at the train station and we walked The New Walk, a 200 year old pedestrian street.
We took a day trip into Nottingham, only 20 minutes on the fast train, and did what we do wherever we are: walked. In this case along the canal for more of a favorite activity, narrow boat peeping. There are no boats on the move right now but plenty moored up.
And back in Leicester we saw the statue of Thomas Cook, a name well known to travelers, holiday package bookers, and high street strollers. The man who first sent travelers off on package tours was indeed born and started his business in Leicester. The first trip he organized was to Nottingham. From Leicester. He was also a temperance man, so you can be sure those first tours were not big partying tours.
So thank you Midlands, there is more to you than most people might expect. And now, back to London for one night and off to Morocco. And thank you to our niece for having us to stay.
We found my favorite pub in the entire world. Yes, we’ve been to cat cafes around the world – oh, we’ve seen some things.
A cat cafe in Thailand with color matched cats. A resort in Malaysia with dozens of well behaved rescued cats who happily lounged at the pool, in your room, and under the tables at the restaurant. A San Francisco cat cafe where you could adopt the cats. We’ve discussed the absence of cat bars and what you could call one. Suds and Siamese. Pints and Pussies. Ale and Alley Cats.
But here in Bristol we visited The Bag of Nails. Going forward always referred to as Kitty Heaven. Cats for me, beers for him. Kitties on the bar, kitties on your lap, at one point eight cats were visible in this not large pub. Oh, did I not mention that my wonderful travel guy is allergic to cats?
Cat cafes tend to be very controlled environments. More so in California due to health regulations. Here at Kitty Heaven the list of amusing but serious rules includes one definitely aimed at me “no squealing.”.
We only stayed for one pint, but what a happy pint it was.
Vinyl on the sound system. Beer in hand. Cat on lap. Heaven.
If you’re a cat lover and in Bristol, it’s a great place to visit. Review the rules first and do not squeal.
Walking on the coastal path is one of our favorite things to do. Be ready for wind and rain this time of year, and be ready to be blown away by the geology. It helps to have someone drop you off at one spot, and you either hike back to home, or they generously pick you up hours later.
So how did we get here and still stick to our car lite car free ethos? Train from London to Swansea – a minus one minute transfer there where most of the train passengers started dashing to the connection to Camarthen- it was held but no one told us all that so it was a bit of a mad scramble. Our wonderful friends picked us up by car in Camarthen. There is a line to Tenby but there was no connection we could make that day.
It reminds us that to replace car use, alternatives need to be reliable, affordable, and easy to figure out. The UK has a much better passenger train system than most of the US, but when driving and flying are still cheaper and easier options, or you don’t have someone to help you out with a ride, it can be tricky to rely on trains. We’re slow traveling so we don’t mind lots of train time, but to sacrifice time and more money is a non starter for most. Non peak hours trains are much cheaper, not traveling on a Friday or Sunday – much cheaper. But if you need to travel on peak or are meeting usual office hours, you will pay more and it’s not cheap. For us, not having to rent a car (yet), and having friends who don’t mind picking us up at train stations (yet), and being willing to walk from train stations wearing our rucksacks to hotels 20 or 30 minutes from the station, means we can be as car free as we have managed. Long may we continue this.
Next up? Bath, Bristol, friends in West Sussex, Leicester, and then Morocco. Rich will write about the travel planning during COVID challenges. Happy travels.
Favorite thing about London? The transport. Transport for London (TFL) has quite a task keeping the underground, overground, and all the amazing buses moving. Once again, Citymapper for the London win. Using that app allows us to get anywhere in London on any mode. Turn by turn call out bike directions, we love you, especially the dock to dock bike share feature. As Rich notes, that was the missing piece when using bikeshare and directions. If you aren’t using Citymapper as your preferred transit/mobility app, give it a try, we think it’s the best.
We met up with one of our fantastic nieces for lunch and a walk. We biked around on the cycle share Boris Bikes, also known as Santander Cycles. we went to the Imperial War Museum and lost track of time in the amazingly well curated World War 2 exhibit. We didn’t take many photos. Too busy enjoying the city.
The Imperial War Museum reminded us of how great museums can be. The WW2 exhibit was next level curating. Diverse, engaging, and accessible. It made me want to write a sternly worded email to the Louvre about the problems we saw there while visiting Paris. We had been in the Louvre for about 3 hours when my wonderful husband said “Do they even exhibit any female artists?” And I thought I was the staunch feminist in this marriage! Good question, I replied, proudly. The top item on my sternly worded email to the Louvre would be a request that they call out in a map, or with specifically marked or colored description tags, the few female artists they have on display.
When I did an online search for information on female artists at the Louvre it turned out we had noticed several, without being aware that they were works by female artists. I don’t believe any of the art covered in the needlessly complicated audio guide, (Nintendo based, a big hit with the mostly over 55 users I’m sure), was woman painted. Next in my email I’ll mention the badly laid out cloak room/lockers, lack of drinking fountains, lack of signage and directions, and the exit through the shopping mall with again, no signage on how to exit the shopping mall. The art is, of course, amazing, but the curation is not up to date. We certainly didn’t plan our Louvre trip very well, we never even made it to one wing – we simply couldn’t find it – but as Rich said, a well curated museum shouldn’t need a plan of attack. It should be more intuitive and obvious where you want to go.
We have reveled in being able to communicate again with our move to English speaking UK. After so many weeks in countries where we spoke the language poorly (Rich’s French is pretty good, mine is awful), how nice to understand and be understood. It was also lovely to meet up with friends from SF, and our grad school attending niece. After many weeks of mostly each other for company we both enjoyed the time with friends and family. Where next? Off to Wales.
As we pedaled along a few days ago and did the math, we realized we’d been bike touring for 48 days. That’s our longest trip ever on bikes. As I write this, on a train from Tours to Dijon, it’s day 50. It’s certainly a lot of work, not the pedaling part although that can be tough at times, but the moving most nights. The unpacking (I call it the bag barf, where I simply turn my panniers upside down and let everything cascade to the floor.), the packing, and of course the travel planning done exclusively by Rich. Each day he checks terrain and weather and towns that look nice for a stay, one night or two, the feeding of two hungry cyclists – thank goodness for hotel breakfasts – whoops, watch out for Sunday, everything closes about noon, be ready for that!
But everyday at one point or another, while looking at the river, or a chateau in the mist, or collapsed on a bench for a tea break, we look around and say to each other- wow, this is amazing and we are so lucky.
The things that we notice while traveling the speed we can pedal are so detailed. Wild boar in the forests on the way to Chateau Chambord. Hunters in orange vests ranged out alongside a forested patch near the river, hunting boar we assume. We stopped to watch, heard the hunting dogs baying, and saw a deer come running out of the forest across a field, followed by a hare who ran so fast and so far – completely spooked and relived that the men in orange were not after him. Gunshots rang out, we checked our brightly colored rain jackets were on for increased visibility, and pedaled away. Just another day on the bike tour, but one I hope we’ll always remember.
At a Sunday stop at a bakery for sandwiches we chatted with a super nice British couple who’d been living in France for 30 years, he was a cyclist and wanted to chat about our American made bikes. As Rich described our route and we mentioned that we had taken some train hops he shook his head and his partner said, oh, he thinks trains are cheating when you’re bike touring. We don’t. We haven’t owned a car in 21 years, we’ve earned these train hops.
We’re headed back to our French “home base”, looking forward to some time not moving, cooking for ourselves and hiking in addition to biking. We’ll leave the bikes there, swap our our luggage and head by train to Paris, then to London, and then to Tenby, Wales.