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.

Laying Low in Lisbon

Well, it was bound to happen. After over 14 months of travel, Covid finally caught up to us. Being really sick is definitely a low point of extended (or even short) travels. You just want to be home, have all your comforts, and be better. Luckily, our nomadic lifestyle has prepared us to deal with travel uncertainties a bit better and stay calm when a hiccup develops…even major ones.

It’s easy to find the charm of Lisbon, even recovering from a bout of Covid.

After we tested positive earlier this week, we immediately prioritized our next steps: push back the flight to the NYC, extend our lodging in Lisbon, notify our friends we were to stay with in the US, and think about contingencies.

So leafy and with a mild Mediterranean climate, Lisbon feels so much like San Francisco

We respect this new virus and know that it has brought untold misery on the world, and uncertain outcomes to even the healthiest. And although Covid hit us hard for a few days, the worst soon passed. We are lucky to be quite healthy, with daily exercise, good sleep habits, and a good diet (mostly, as we do indulge in local foods that may not be on any top 10 health food lists).

Our big adventure to the grocery store to stock up for an unknown duration of hunkering down. Rain and slippery limestone not helping!

Of course stomach ailments are a part of travel too, and we’ve had our share of them over many years, including India, Mexico, and Morocco. But one of the only nice things about stomach bugs is that they are usually over very suddenly. You often go from wanting to die on the toilet to wanting a double cheeseburger and a beer in hours. And we’ve always been lucky enough to only have one of us down and out at once. The other person is available to get hydration, meds, and make any travel changes.

Although revitalization and gentrification has spruced up most buildings in Lisbon, there are still a few fixer uppers available.

But this hit us both at almost the same time. We were a bit fatigued as we left Bilbao, and fully masked on our travels, but it didn’t feel like anything more than maybe some post-Camino tiredness and a little stuffy head (No cough, no fever.). But it had settled in deeper by the time we got to Lisbon and we both woke up Wednesday morning with brain fog, extreme tiredness, more congestion, and some decent aches and pains. The Covid rapid tests an hour later confirmed what we already suspected…we both had it.

Feeling Lisbon’s nautical roots on the Tagus

Luckily, we had booked an apart-hotel room for our 3 day stay and we were able to extend to 8 days in the same unit. It’s quiet and has two big windows looking at trees, and over 500 sq ft in two rooms, including (crucially) a kitchenette. So we are able to adventure out to grocery stores for supplies and have all our meals here, as well as lots of healthy fruit and veg, comfort food, and juices.

The iconic tram cars of Lisbon look like cute toys, but are still as functional as ever.

The two rooms allowed some space for us to relax separately in such cosy quarters. By Friday morning we both felt noticeably better, so Cheryl took another test. If she was still a strong positive, then we wouldn’t waste another test. So we were both thrilled when she tested negative, and I decided to test as well. Still somewhat positive…Today it was an almost imperceivable line, so I’m almost certain to be 100% negative by tomorrow!

Look, real laundry drying in the Alfama! Maybe a family still lives here….

So we are happy with our decision to push back our flights to the US to this Wednesday, as we’ve actually been able to start going out and enjoying some of this very beautiful city. We also had masked all day on our way to Lisbon, including the plane, and taxis, so hopefully we did not infect others, but it’s also made us realize that the virus is out there everywhere, and continuing our cautious ways in the future is smart, not to mention getting all the available boosters we can. We don’t want to go through this again (too soon) and don’t want to put anyone else unnecessarily at risk. But the virus is now a part of life, and part of travel, like it or not.

Cheryl’s negative test smile with the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge…always a double take for our beloved Golden Gate

Another item of note is the fact that we’ll be on Day 89 of 90 allowable Schengen days this Wednesday, so we’re also really glad that we left 6 visa days of validity slack in our plans. For those who don’t recall, a U.S. citizen can only be in the 26 country border-free Schengen Zone of Europe for up to 90 days out of any 180 day contiguous period without a country-specific extended stay visa. It’s a rule that catches a lot of long term travelers out.

Endless ups and downs across Lisbon.

This is our second visit to Lisbon, as we were last here for 4 nights in early 2018, along with visits to Porto, and Coimbra. It’s still charming, and I especially love the extreme vertical terrain, where you never quite know which way is out of a valley. Surprises await if you get off the beaten track, but one thing that’s noticeable from even our last stay, is that the penetration of tourism seems even deeper into the neighborhoods.

Keeping my distance for other tourists catching shots of the funicular in the Alfama

It’s the age old conundrum of tourism development: by coming to see what everyone else wants to see, you are slowly changing it, and before long, the native and organic neighborhood elements are completely flushed out. Lisbon is still real, and there are Portuguese tourists here as well, but the relentless conversion of neighborhood properties into short term rentals via AirBnB, new boutique hotels and spas, and easy air access for cheap weekend visits, has made much of it feel a bit overrun.

Lisbon’s revitalized waterfront includes this cool bio-algae pond with floating cork islands. (The Vino Verde corks have a home now!)
The grittiness of the the western port area was refreshing after the heavily touristed core

It feels like a City fighting to keep its character. We recognize this from San Francisco, and know that locals will always know how to avoid the tourists and the touristy restaurants, etc. But San Francisco had a big advantage over Lisbon in the past 40 years, it was much more expensive to buy property, had strict development rules, and better tenant protections. As the Alfama neighborhood struggled and investment waned, rules were adopted that if someone would buy a property and renovate it, then all the tenants could be evicted. Period. It saved a lot of the buildings from ruin, but apparently decimated the local neighborhood.

Blue skies and an ageless charm in the Alfama

It’s very evident today that only a few pockets of “authentic” neighborhood exist in the Alfama. But cities are always changing and Lisbon is adapting as well. Free transit for seniors and those under 23, a new waterfront revitalization, and a focus on preserving the unique culture.

Way to go Lisbon…free transit is a great way to encourage car free habits at a young age and make sure seniors are mobile

There are also stricter rules on foreign Golden Visas, which have allowed many foreigners to settle in Portugal, but have really changed many neighborhoods in Lisbon, Porto, and smaller towns in the Algarve to expat enclaves. It’s a tough balance for a developing country that had a lot of debt and challenges in the past, but has an amazing extremely welcoming culture, good education and healthcare systems, and a fantastic climate.

Always follow the empty stairway!

But I have meandered a bit too far off track but do promise that next time we come to Portugal, we will see even more of it, and try to spread the tourism love further….perhaps walking along 200km of the Camino Portuguese.

The happy travelers smiling again

Happy fall and looking forward to seeing some of you soon back in the USA!

Naples. Who knew?

Naples, and Mt. Vesuvius topped with snow.

Some say it’s too gritty and sketchy. A couple we met thought it felt unsafe. It’s far too easy to be put off a place by reading negative on line comments. But, we also heard from people that Naples is all about great food, and that the people are quite nice. Thankfully we decided to make up our own minds and visit. We had a wonderful three days. What a great food city. Friendly people. Train and metro system could use a bit of love and money, but yeah, so could a lot of cities’ transit systems.

Some of the metro trains were seriously tagged. New Yorkers of a certain age will feel nostalgic.

It was a busy weekend in Naples, with loads of Italian families in town for Carnivale festivities, and to enjoy the lifting of some Covid restrictions. The hotel front desk said it was their first really busy weekend since the start of Covid. The city was hopping, and many of the restaurants we had researched were booked solid every evening. But we used our long honed traveler restaurant radar and did quite well.

Our secret power? Eat early by Italian standards. 7:30 pm.
Another good trick is to find a lovely tiny little bar and ask the very nice owner to take your photo and recommend a restaurant.
Got the last free table, had a wonderful meal, and provided free entertainment to the room full of locals.

Naples really earns its food reputation. The restaurants and pastry shops, although daunting with their fast moving busy customers and workers, were very worth the occasional “dorky tourist” feeling. Usually we watch how things work for a bit before plunging in, but when it’s really busy that can be hard. So, make mistakes, do it wrong, but get to that pastry!

Clams and snails for sale. Also fish and eels.
Sausage and pork on display.
Sfogliatella and Fiocco di Neve. This was a bakery where we did do everything wrong in ordering, but still managed to eat wonderful pastries. Thank you kind workers.
We thought we knew good pizza. Naples pizza is next level delicious.
And yet, still room for gelato. Many of the narrow streets of the historic center are car free. Sometimes you think they are simply too narrow for a car, and along comes one squeezing by restaurant tables and threading through pedestrians.
The Toledo metro station. A work of art.
The happy travelers at Castel Sant’Elmo overlooking the Bay of Naples.

Up next, more of southern Italy, including two ancient Roman cities destroyed by Vesuvius.

Venice exhales with Carnivale spirit.

The Grand Canal view from Ca’ Rezzonico Museum.

What to do as tourist numbers are still down in the (hopefully) waning months of the pandemic? Head to places usually much too crowded to consider. We always say the B and C destinations are our thing, we prefer the less visited sites. But the idea of Venice with fewer tourists? Yes please. We didn’t even realize it was the start of Carnivale. With Italy just lifting the outdoor mask requirements a few weeks ago, we were surprised and happy to learn that Carnivale was on – in a more limited way than usual.

Our first sighting of a costumed reveler.
The edge of Piazza San Marco.

At first I was a bit timid about taking photos. But the revelers were posing for everyone. It reminded me of a Halloween/Beach Blanket Babylon mash up.

The masks have eyeholes, but with black mesh over them. The wearers are able to see but not well. They are super careful going up and down the bridge steps.
Looking so regal and poised.
Having a chat with friends.

It was Piazza San Marco and the lack of crowds there that really made us appreciate what a unique time this was to visit Venice. Like much of the world we watched with horror the terrible effects of the pandemic in Italy, and wondered what it would feel like to be tourists in the after times. Since we don’t speak much Italian, it’s difficult to know what the locals are feeling about the return of tourists. Yes, it’s a big part of the economy, but for all of us who spent the lockdown days in places with usually high tourism levels, it was nice to get a breather from over-tourism. How to navigate the return of what can be an onslaught? What we do is try to be good tourists, respectful visitors, and keep our impact as low as possible.

On a bridge on the island of Murano. I nod my thanks and say bellissima.
Who doesn’t love costumes?
The view from the other side. Piazza San Marco.

We spent a wonderful three nights walking, taking Vaporetto (the public transit boats), eating, and enjoying being in a city that seems unbelievable.

The view from a bridge. Somewhere on a day of many miles of walking.
Stylish Italians photobomb our vaporetto usie.
Evening on the Grand Canal.
Sun setting behind gondolas.
The happy travelers catching the setting sun.

And now we’re on a train to Naples, where we anticipate more Carnivale activities all weekend long.

Six months of travel. Already.

Pre flight testing at San Francisco airport the day before our flight in August, 2021.

Six months of travel so far. I should add the word only to remind myself it’s ONLY been six months. It feels much longer. To have so many new experiences after 18 months of home body living skews your sense of time. We talk about something we did three months ago and it feels as if it were a year or more in the past. I want to tell you what we’ve learned, and what have been our successes, but first – what do I miss?

Baking. Like many, I leaned into cooking and baking during the height of the pandemic. I miss my sour cream coffee cake.

Friends and family are of course on top of the list of what I miss. And I miss baking. But, for everything I miss (except friends and family), there is a consolation activity or option.

Danish bakery in London. Bakeries are a lovely consolation for not being able to bake.

I miss knowing our way around a place. Living for so many years in SF meant I could bike, walk, or take transit almost anywhere without consulting a map. Now, maps are our constant friends.

Rich working the smartphone and paper map on a foggy hike near Grange-Over-Sands.

The upside of not knowing your way around is the constant discovery of new things. Every place, every turn of a corner, every walk to a museum, restaurant, or train station might have an unexpected gem just waiting for us to notice it.

Arrived by bus to Axminster train station in need of a snack. A sign pointed us 50 yards away to a milk vending machine.
Chocolate milk? Yes please.

Every fun discovery gives us a chance to chat with locals, like the gent who was coming to refill his milk bottles at the milk vending machine and walked us through the process. And then a man returning to his work truck from a hardware store nearby stopped to congratulate us on finally figuring out the vending machine, and we chatted for 20 minutes, hearing about his trips to Scotland and France and sharing our own travel stories. It’s not the same as seeing old friends while walking or biking in SF, and we’ll never see those two men again, but I will claim them as momentary friends.

Typical room while bike touring. Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

Comfortable furniture. That we miss! If a hotel room has two chairs we consider ourselves lucky. If even one of them is actually comfortable we’re thrilled.

Two chairs. And fairly comfortable. Heated floors, good for drying laundry. Disentis, Switzerland.

The uncomfortable furniture is a small price to pay for the privilege of travel like this. Our time in the UK helped us appreciate slow travel. And I’ve learned to fluff, flip, and rearrange the couch seat cushions in our rental apartments to try and eke out a bit more comfort .

Dinner ready to be cooked in an apartment in Colmar, France.

So what have we learned to make ourselves happy and healthy while traveling long term? Cook for ourselves as much as possible which means apartments with kitchens. We amass a roving pantry when we’re staying in places with kitchens. And we check for a local farmers market first thing.

Farmers Market haul from Keswick, in the Lake District.
Yoga mat folded up for travel. It’s thin and natural rubber so quite sticky.

Exercise is key. Easy when bike touring and when getting a lot of walking in, but we both have specific stretches and strength building exercises we need to do. Enter travel yoga mat. It’s nice to have and even more, it’s a good reminder to actually do the stretches and work outs. After trying to buy it in person I caved and ordered from Amazon to be delivered to an Amazon locker in London. I also ended up ordering laundry detergent sheets from Amazon to be delivered to a locker in Liverpool. Again after failing to find them at local shops. As much as I don’t love Amazon, the ability to get deliveries while traveling is very helpful. Laundry sheets are a fantastic travel item. Light to carry and useful for sink laundry as well as for confusing all in one washer/dryer combo machines.

Defunct train viaduct near Lyme Regis. Rich added for scale. Walking keeps us happy.
The happy, clean, well exercised travelers in France.

We are currently in France, swapping out some gear for our next adventures. Where to next? Italy.

Cruising the Southwest Coast

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

Pondering our next moves near Bosigran Castle, Cornwall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaning in to slow travel.

In front of the big board at Bristol Temple Mead Station.

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.”

Stop for salads from the M&S fine foods. We try to never board a train without snacks or lunch.
Waiting for our train.

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.

At Axminster station, about to catch the bus to Lyme Regis.
Wheeling and walking from the bus to our guest house.

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 old train viaduct at Uplyme. A lovely afternoon hike. Could have been hunting fossils.
Beautiful houses in Lyme Regis on a street that slopes down to the fossil beach.
Goofing around on the Cobb, of French Lieutenant’s Woman and Jane Austin’s Persuasion fame – just up from the fossil beach.

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.

Apparently her house flooded with high tides and storms. A new sea wall changed that allowing the museum to be built.

The fossil talk was amazing, we learned so much. I learned we didn’t leave enough time for actual fossil hunting.

The wonderful geologist who talked us through what to expect and look for. And answered all the whys of this area.
Fossil hunting. Everyone has their gaze turned towards the sand. There really are fossils just laying on the sand.
The limestone cliffs where the fossils are before they landslide onto the beach. And my intrepid fossil hunter.

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.

Looking earthward for fossils.
Two different versions of fossilized ammenonites. The small partial one is iron pyritized.

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.

A tribute to Mary Anning on the coast path. Her dog Tray and a Plesiosaurus skeleton in metal on a section of fence.

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.

The happy travelers take a sunset usie. Should have been fossil hunting.

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.

Doing the Booster Limbo

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

The moist and green footpaths around Tenby

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

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

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

Cream Tea at the Ivy in Cheltenham

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

The boys on a beautiful day on the Pembrokeshire Coast

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

Watchful eyes in Cheltenham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up and down the coast path to Saundersfoot

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

Oh Oh, no trains going from Carmarthen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colorful Tenby Harbour

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

Happy travels!

Beauty all around us.

Above Ambleside.

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.

Stone circle of Castlerigg.

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.

Ladder stile over a wall.
Classic wooden stile over a fence.
A narrow gap with a tiny gate.
A very narrow gap, requires even Rich to squeeze through. This is actually called a squeeze stile.
One of my favorites, stone steps up a stone wall.
More robust steps, usually there is a small gap at the top, and here, a metal bar across the gap.
A rather fancy ladder and platform stile, outside Cartmel.

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.

The farmers depend on hikers properly closing gates. We make sure we do.
A kissing gate, it simply swings and requires no securing.
I appreciate these signs educating hikers about the animals in the fields.

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.

Zoe, a 4 month old Jack Russel terrier, accepting a treat supplied by her human.

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.

A foggy view on the River Eea.

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.

Muddy boots and the green green hills of Cumbria.
Sunrise over the River Kent with Kendal Castle ruins on the hill. This is the view from our apartment.

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.

The happy travelers on the road to who knows where.