As we wait to sort out our booster records we’ve really started to take delight in our snap travel decisions. Our last booked evening in Bristol Rich asked, where should we go next? My reply was “How easy to get to the Jurassic Coast? Looks fairly close.”
And the travel planner makes it happen. I’ve wanted to visit Lyme Regis since reading the novel Remarkable Creatures, about Mary Anning, the renowned fossilist.
Lyme Regis is the heart of the Jurassic Coast. We had a lovely day and a half of hiking, which I now realize we could have spent fossil hunting. Oh yes, I caught the fossil bug. I caught it bad.
The Lyme Regis museum, built on the site of Mary Anning’s house, offers a fossil talk and walk. We bought tickets for Friday, our last day in town, thinking we had plenty of time to do that and catch our bus to the train station.
The fossil talk was amazing, we learned so much. I learned we didn’t leave enough time for actual fossil hunting.
The best time to fossil hunt is after a big storm has caused land slips and churned up the beach. We were on the beach after days of mild weather, so not prime fossil time. And it was still amazing. Apparently after a storm the professionals are at the beach before dawn with headlamps and hammers. There are no prohibitions about hunting, just warnings. As our geologist told us, if you don’t get the fossils the ocean will. But don’t let the cliffs get you. They let loose on a regular basis. He kept us away from the cliff bases and focused on the tidal zone.
I’ll let wiki explain how these jewel like fossils happen: Organisms may become pyritized when they are in marine sediments saturated with iron sulfides. (Pyrite is iron sulfide.) As organic matter decays it releases sulfide which reacts with dissolved iron in the surrounding waters. … Some pyritized fossils include Precambrian microfossils, marine arthropods and plants.
Sadly, we only had a short time on the beach before we had to leave to catch our bus to the train. But we will definitely be back to fossil hunt again.
Our next snap travel decision was to go on to Plymouth by train. Since we were so far down SW England, why not go farther? so we did. We’re in an apartment in Plymouth for a while. Where will we go next? And how will we get there? Stay tuned.
We left the beautiful and empty lake district via an easy one connection train trip to western Wales, and have been enjoying a lovely week in Tenby, courtesy again of our endlessly generous friends.
The weather has been favorable as well, with little rain, and temperatures pushing 50 most days, as this is often one of the warmest locations in the UK.
We even had the opportunity to part ways for a few days, as Cheryl went to Cheltenham in the Cotswolds with our host, and another old friend for a ladies getaway, while the guys stayed behind in Tenby.
Although we almost always enjoy each other’s company, It was good for both of us to have some independent time for a change, and a bit of an odd sensation after so much intense time together the past 6 months.
Long term travel with a partner definitely requires a special relationship, and a lot of give and take. Luckily this comes naturally to Cheryl and I, but we still have to both respect each other’s personal space, independent desires, and known quirks (Just mine of course, Cheryl is perfect -;)
Meanwhile the world continues to spin and adjust to Omicron, although we are happily past the early January peak in the UK. We certainly hope that the world gets to some endemic normalcy in 2022, but there are a lot of challenges, including proper global vaccination supply. As for us, we know we are lucky to be traveling at all and are still so thankful to the NHS for providing us a booster shot in December, as this allowed us to continue our travels with more protection and in a responsible manner.
However, since we weren’t registered in the NHS system, we only have small hand written vaccine cards recording our booster. We were given a heads up that this could be an issue going forward, especially for travel documentation, and indeed this month, we have found that our electronic (EU) COVID passports have now expired in most countries, as there has been a new standardization around a 270 day (9 month) validity from original vaccines without a booster.
So we need to get our booster vaccines we received in December into a more usable electronic format. We think we have found a solution as you can actually register with a local GP surgery in England as a non-resident, and access the record after being assigned an NHS number. We could have registered in Wales in theory, but the health systems are actually quite separate and we were warned that the transfer of the record from England could be fairly quick or take months…something that wouldn’t work for our desired onward travels to France and Italy.
So we set off to Bristol, England yesterday to try to get registered in the area after some initial success online and with some phone calls to various practices that are still accepting new patients. Many are full or shut off due to COVID and/or ongoing GP shortage issues in the UK. Health systems are strained everywhere.
As a bonus, we had a bit of an adventurous day getting to Bristol, England yesterday due to signaling issues disrupting a west wales Main line. When our first train leg was cancelled (and next train in 4 hours!) we quickly booked a taxi to the next transfer station, where our onward journey was still shown on time; however, then found out that the problem was still down the line. Doh!
Luckily, after some confusion, Transport for Wales did manage to rustle up a few small mini buses to get us past the issue. And in fact, the friendly driver offered to drive the 20 or so of us to a more convenient station for quicker connections and we ultimately got to Bristol an hour earlier than scheduled, by catching a connecting train with two minutes to spare. Small travel win!
But we are in a sort of limbo while we try to sort out our booster record, but we will try to make the best of it. And it’s interesting to return to the Bristol-Bath, an area that we really enjoyed in our first visit last fall. You so often say in travel life, “we should come back here some time to see more, etc….” But you rarely do. This is one revelation we discuss as we travel new places now; do you think we’ll come back here someday? Yes, no, maybe….but always realizing that regardless, travel to a place is always a snapshot in time, and a unique experience.
The Hanoi we fell in love with in 2007 was not the same Hanoi in our 2017 return. Of course, the UK does have many places that haven’t changed much 500 (or 5000) years, but the country is still a very different place than 5 years ago, as it has a whole different vibe post-Brexit, and mid-pandemic. The travel experience is a complex blend of a place’s physical infrastructure, social, political, and environmental influences, all filtered though the lens of your personal attitude and biases.
So what next? Excellent question. On our 7 hour train ride last week from the Lake District, we had some time to think about 2022 and develop some broad scenarios. The challenge is to parse out our 90 allowed Schengen days in the prime spring/summer/fall. Some of the goals include more bike touring in Northern Europe, Scandinavia, and the Baltics….tied to the Grand Depart of the 2022 Tour de France in Denmark on July 1st. (Hotel reserved a year ago -:).
In the nearer term, we are looking to do some more exploring in Italy, perhaps walking some of the beaten tourist routes more off-season, such as the Cinque Terre, or Venice. Then “home” to the US of a for a month to see as many friends and families as we can ( and consume as many burritos as humanly possible!)…..then back across the pond to explore Turkey for a month, a place we have long wanted to visit, before swapping out for our bikes again. Central and Southern Africa are also on the short list for later in the year, as well as the Camino Del Norte in the fall. Of course, these are all subject to quick pivot as needed based on the state of the world.
So hopefully the blizzards are clearing and the sun is starting to shine a bit more wherever you are, as we emerge from a long dark winter, and the burdens of a pandemic. For now we move on in the UK with the uncertainty that has become a way of life.
Nine days of hiking. And we haven’t even scratched the surface of the available trails. We’ve moved a bit south to the very lovely market town of Kendal, known as the gateway to the Lakes District. The terrain here is less craggy and peaky, more rolling hills and sweeping vistas, but just as beautiful as the Lake District proper and with just as much amazing hiking.
The stone walls, the farm animals, our interactions with friendly hikers, and of course the pints at the pub garden at the end of our hikes have been keeping us well entertained. I’m fascinated with the many different types of stiles that get us over fences and walls while keeping the sheep and cattle contained.
Along with clamoring over stiles we’ve opened, and correctly closed and secured many gates. Many many gates. So many gates we joke that we now have masters degrees in gate-ology.
We’ve had some lovely chats with other hikers. The fell runners and the one tarn (lake) swimmer we saw have impressed us with their hardiness. And, we’ve stopped to talk to hikers who are well into their 70s and 80s. We say to each other after those interactions, with luck that will be us, years from now, still happily hiking together.
As we’d hoped, the Covid curve seems to have peaked here in the UK. We’re glad we’ve stayed in apartments and kept out of crowded places as long as we have. Yes we’ve had some very chilly pints and cups of tea outside, but it’s been the right thing for us to do.
We’ve seen so much stunning countryside. This time in the Lake District in winter was not something we planned on, but we’re enjoying it so much. Travel in the time of Covid is stressful, we think we’re doing a good job keeping ourselves relatively calm and certainly well exercised.
What’s next? Back to our good friends in Wales. After that, uncertain at this point. We need to get our COVID booster shots entered into the EU tracking system so we have the ability to abide by vaccination rules in France, as our current Pass Sanitaires are now invalid without the booster info being updated. It’s probably easiest to do this while in France. So, maybe France is next.
We moved on from lovely Liverpool late last week and arrived Keswick by train and bus (locally pronounced Kehz-ick) on a spectacularly snowy day in the Lake District.
We were very glad that our professional bus driver was plying the slushy mountain roads, especially on the sheer edges of deep lakes; nevertheless, we did take note of the emergency window systems on the bus! (avoiding what I called a double decker bus watery grave…-;)
Our decision to base in Keswick was based on a number of factors, but primarily that we could get there by public transit, and numerous lines route from there to other parts of the National Park. It also has a few museums, nice shops, and many services in town, including a great regional supermarket, Booth’s.
Oh, it also happens to be very quaint, with a lovely pedestrianized core and footpaths heading in every direction, including along the large Derwant Waters, what we in America might call a lake!
We actually wavered a bit about whether we “needed” to rent a car, but then read about many others visiting car-free and thriving with the great regional transit system. After 6 days here, we know it was 100% the right decision for us.
Our decision also considered the fact that this area is heavily impacted by car traffic, much like the National Parks in the US. Nevertheless, the car parks and road are still surprisingly busy here mid week in January, as driving is still seen as the easiest and best way for most to experience the park. Despite some pay parking in many of the towns and villages, the roads are still free and there is an abundance of free parking available.
But it’s not just about the carbon footprint of driving for us. We’ve seen the impacts automobile congestion, noise, and pollution have on communities. When practical, we don’t want to contribute unnecessarily to the problem. Although traffic is fairly light in the middle of winter now, it apparently is extremely congested most of the year, and a nightmare in holiday periods.
The typical scenic two lane roads barely fit two bus widths (they slow to pass) or even some large cars and trucks! Luckily most people in the UK still drive pretty small cars, but they still impact the safety and experience of the bikes and walkers that also use most roads. Many drivers here go too fast for conditions and it can be nerve wracking even on small unmarked country lanes.
National Parks and holiday areas have specific problems, and many have now taken to managing traffic through various methods, such as fees, closures, parking management, and shuttles/transit. The Lake District National Parks is no different and really is trying to address the problem by providing a really good bus system at fairly reasonable (but not cheap) prices.
The buses are reliable, extensive, clean, and even a joy with double deck service on the some lines and 1/2 open top double deck service on two shorter lines through very scenic areas. So the buses really do double as sightseeing and transit for locals and visitors alike.
The other key is easy payment. The Stagecoach bus system offers payment by any tap cars/Apple Pay, etc for single/day trips or you can buy a loadable smart card right from the driver £1 fee for week or month passes.
We bought the 7 day gold pass form £29 each, which allows unlimited travel on the entire systems, which extends to the coast and all the gateway/border cities of the whole district.
The only suggestion we would make to the Stagecoach bus system is to make the pass an 8-day or 7+1 trip pass, as many holiday rentals are 7-nights, so you generally have 8 days of travel. We are going to have to buy another day pass for our last day out of the park…. a minor annoyance. Let’s make this an even easier decision for people.
So we highly recommend coming to the Lake District in the winter. Although the transit system runs a little less frequently, and a few of the lines to very remote areas are peak season only, you will have a lot of the typically crowded places to yourself. Just make sure to always bring your waterproofs, and leave the car behind.
We joke. Sort of. This is an island, and the COVID rates are quite high. The prevalence of Omicron has changed how we’re traveling and what we’re doing. Travel from the UK to France is still not allowed, but Germany is again allowing travel from the UK. We had planned to go back to France but that was impossible. The testing requirements and test costs to go to Ireland put us off going there. So, hello Liverpool!
Liverpool was recommended to us for its museums, and it has absolutely lived up to the recommendation. So far we’ve visited the Museum of Liverpool, The Tate Liverpool, The Walker Gallery, the Maritime Museum, which includes the International Museum of Slavery – so much to see that we went twice – and today the British Music Experience.
Why so many museum visits? Well, they are quite good, and it’s dang cold out. We’re still walking a lot, so many interesting things to see here, but when you don’t have many options to warm up inside, it’s back to a museum. It helps that most of the museums are free. We always donate at the donation points but it means that popping in for an hour and to use the bathroom is easy.
We’re hoping the COVID rates will calm down in the next few weeks, but until then we keep on being safe and staying out of crowded pubs and restaurants. We’ve had lunch inside at empty restaurants, and cooked our own dinner in our hotel room kitchen, but mostly we bundle up and look for sheltered pub gardens and heat lamps.
We knew that travel during the time of COVID would be challenging and changeable, so we roll with it. Would we recommend a winter trip to Liverpool? It’s not the easiest time to be a tourist, but there is plenty to do here and the locals are very friendly. We’re so glad we got the opportunity to spend time here. I do miss sitting inside cozy pubs though.
We move on to the Lake District tomorrow to do some hiking. We’ll take the train and plan to rely on the reportedly very good bus system to get to and from hikes. As COVID testing and travel rules change frequently, we continue to make no firm plans, only scenarios.
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.
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.
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.
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.