Ancient sites and a cozy neighborhood.

Like many tourists/travelers, we really enjoy visiting places that are not so clearly tourist attractions. Selçuk is one of those, the town nearest to Ephesus, a 10th century BC settlement. What, you ask? Ephesus is obviously a big attraction, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015, with impressive ruins and ongoing archeological work. How is that not a tourist place? All right, it is. But these days many of the visitors seem to arrive for the day, bused in off a cruise ship.

Once again we timed our visit to have some alone time in the ruins.

The town of Selçuk is charming. Some of the cruise ship buses do stop at the Archeological Museum in town, where you can view the most impressive treasures uncovered at Ephesus, but the town itself is a lovely, relaxed, and friendly place and once again we felt like the only non Turkish tourists in town.

Rich at the upper gate of Ephesus. See, this look says – no one else here yet.
Looking up the main road of Ephesus. I am always fascinated by the paving stones. Some of these bore the initials of the workers who laid them in place.
Rich walking down the main road of Ephesus. The harbor used to be very close, but as it silted up the town struggled and eventually failed.
Quickly waylaid by a friendly Turkish cat.
The Library of Celsus, the most recognizable and amazing structure of the site.

The trick to having this site to ourselves was actually setting an alarm clock (something we rarely do these days), arranging for a quick 7:30 am breakfast at our hotel, and being in a pre arranged taxi at 8:00. The taxi dropped us at the upper gate, and with our tickets already bought at the museum the day before, the Selçuk Pass, good at four sites and well worth the price, we waltzed right in to an empty experience. Empty for about an hour, then a few others started to arrive.

The terrace houses. We were equally impressed with the amazingly engineered shelter over the houses.
Plexiglass walkways and a roof to keep the rain and sun off the terrace houses. I’m sure the grad students who are painstakingly piecing together walls and floors appreciate it too.
The amphitheater. Capable of holding 21,000 spectators.
Amphitheater greeter kitty.
Green hills and blooming poppies made for a lovely and slightly heart wrenching view. How terrible it must have been to give up this city.

About two 1/2 hours later as we headed to the lower gate to walk the 3 km back into town, the cruise ship buses had started to arrive. Perfect timing.

Happy travelers in Ephesus.
The travel planner enjoys his well executed plan.

Selçuk has a neighborhood charm we hadn’t experienced yet in Turkey, having only been to big cities before this stop. After returning from an outing earlier than expected, our innkeeper was out running an errand and not there to let us in. Seeing our plight, a neighbor quickly walked over with the innkeepers number already dialed on his cell phone to help us out.

One of the 15 cats adopted and cared for by our hotel host, this one blind, greeting a neighbor.

We slept through it our first night, but on our second we heard the drummer who walks the town beating their drum to wake residents for their “sahur” meal, the first meal of the day eaten before observing the fast of Ramadan. And that night we saw dozens of tables set up in the street so neighbors could share iftar, the meal that breaks the fast.

Storks nesting on the ruins of the aqueduct in Selçuk.

The white storks are referred to as pilgrim birds in Turkey, and one man told us you can set your calendar for the date of their return in March each year. The 15th, he claimed. Always the 15th.

You see the big stork nest cages around town, giving the pilgrim birds a spot to build a nest which can weigh up to 250 kilos/500 pounds.
The top of this mosque will do for these stork parents.
Şirince is known as the ‘Greek village’ about 8 kms from Selçuk.

Our host dropped us off for a lovely walk around Şirince. Although its main street is mostly catering to day trippers, once you walk above town it’s rural rhythms quickly reveal themselves and a frequently running mini bus took us back to town.

Getting the goats home in the afternoon.

On our last morning with one final site on our Selçuk museum pass, and an 11:45 am bus to catch, we walked up above our hotel to the Castle and the Basilica of St. John – a 6th century site which is the believed burial location of John the Apostle. Once again arriving early we had the site to ourselves – well, us and quite a few cats enjoying their breakfast, provided by one of the groundskeepers.

A very common sight, communal cat breakfast.
The model of the Basilica gives you detail of what you’re seeing.
The size of the Basilica, and the amount of carved marble, is amazing.
Heading to the castle, past what we called grad student alley. Piecing together even some of these fragments would take an entire career.
One town, four amazing attractions.
From castle hill looking towards Ephesus.
Off to catch that bus. Quick detour through the Saturday market.
Bus snacks being acquired.

We considered staying longer in Selçuk, but the coast and swimming beckoned. After some holiday traffic induced bus stress, and some luck with a bus connection, we made it to Bodrum to enjoy the holiday ending Ramadan, the three-day Ramadan Bayram, also known as Eid al-Fitr. More on Bodrum in our next post.

The happy travelers looking forward to more of what Turkey has to offer.

Istanbul. Have we landed in a huge cat Café?

Kitty takes advantage of a micro mobility device to take a bath.

We were ready for the cats of Istanbul, having watched the fantastic documentary from 2016, Kedi, about the cats and the peoples relationship to the many, many, many cats.

Treat for me?

Did that stop me from being bowled over with enthusiasm for each and every cat I saw? No. I’m sure Rich got tired of hearing me announce ‘kitty’ every time I spied a cat. But he is a good sport. Even when I assured him that the cats won’t jump up on the chairs at the restaurant – right before a cat did just that to get access to his lap.

Rich is allergic to cats. Therefore cats love him and seek him out.
Not all cats wanted our attention, many looked like they had places to be, as they trotted along the sidewalks.
Or rested in a slightly out of the way place.
Or did whatever the cats were doing up there. Cat stuff?
The first of many cat photos I took. I got used to this look of mild interest. Many shied away from a petting, but not all.

It warms my heart to see how so many people care for the cats, and stop to give a scratch behind the ears if possible, and how many little cat houses and cat food dot the urban landscape.

At the old train station, now a subway stop since high speed rail has come to town.
Surveying the station.
Museum cat accepts a pet. The blue mosque in the background.

It wasn’t just cats that caught our attention over our five days in Istanbul. The tulip festival was also a delight to see.

Gülhane Park was a riot of tulips.
Sunday was the day to be out enjoying the sunshine and photographing the flowers.
What a lovely way to bring joy to the city.
The Happy Travelers, jet lag almost gone.

There is much more to see and do in Istanbul than we managed to squeeze in, so I hope we’ll be back again sometime. The ten hour time change was tough – we hadn’t had a shift like that in quite a while and we both felt it pretty acutely. We were lucky to have a friend of a friend to meet up with, and made new friends thanks to a charming kitty at a charming restaurant. Hopefully Rich will time to write more about Istanbul, there were a lot things to appreciate from an urbanist transportation point of view.

Nasoni di Roma

The noses of Rome? They are everywhere. Approximately 2,500 -2,800 big noses. Water fountains to you and me. The nose refers to the metal spout, which sticks off the fountain like a … nose. In place since the 1870s they are a little Easter egg hunt as you walk the city.

Nasone (plural nasoni) in front of a flower vendor.

If you come from California, a state usually struggling with and talking about drought, the sight of constantly running water fountains is a bit shocking.

The nasone down the street from where we stayed.

It may seem wasteful to us, but the company in charge of supplying water to Rome says the constantly running fountains only account for a small percentage of water loss, 1% or so, compared to the loss from old and leaky pipes. It is the same tasty drinking water as that supplied to homes.

A nasone in the forum with Arch of Titus in the background.

Some fountains have glamorous backgrounds.

Beautiful fountain across the street from the Alter of the Fatherland.
Another nasone near the Arch of Titus in the forum.

Other nasoni have more utilitarian surroundings.

Representative of a typical street scene.

The metal spout has a small hole at the top of the arch. If you put your finger over the bottom spout water will arc up from the hole to create an easier to drink from fountain. We didn’t know this until later, so we either filled our water bag or slurped the old fashioned way.

Rich filling our water bag while listening to an audio tour of the forum.
Slurping. Again with a dramatic background.
Piazza della Rotunda nasone, that’s the Pantheon in the background.

It wasn’t hot while we were in Rome, but I imagine these fountains are even more appreciated in the heat of summer. It’s nice as a tourist not to have to worry about finding water. And, no need to carry a full water bottle, which keeps your day pack lighter.

Unassuming but so useful.
Is my back to an amazing Roman ruin while I snap pics of a fountain? Yes.
My favorite fountain. With my favorite travel guy.
This stunner is in the Travestere neighborhood. The two side spouts weren’t running, but the theme is fantastic.

We’re back in the US now for a visit to friends and family. Our five days in Rome were not enough to see all the sights, but we did visit many of them, in between fountain spotting.

The happy travelers in the colosseum.

Truly charming Alberobello. Trulli.

The Bella Vista of the trulli. Trulli is the plural of trullo. Helpful?

This fantastic UNESCO world heritage site is firmly on the tourist track of the Puglia region, for good reason. The stone buildings are amazing and adorable. Even more adorable with a dusting of snow.

One of the narrow streets of town.
Close up of a dry stacked roof.

Why, you ask, are these squat little buildings called trullo built this way? Two main reasons, per Wikipedia – abundant building material in the form of limestone boulders collected from fields, originally. And, the Count of Conversano who gave permission for the first “town” here, was avoiding taxes which would have been due to the Spanish viceroy of the Kingdom of Naples. Apparently, no mortar – no taxes.

There are many trulli you can stay in. Maybe not ideally suited to tall modern men, but fascinating.

Like many UNESCO sites Alberobello was both saved and destroyed by its designation in 1996. The buildings, saved. The probably once characterful town, now firmly on the tourist track, another tick on the travel itinerary – gone. Destroyed is a strong word, but we do find the friendliness of locals is an inverse curve to the number of tourists. Other than the charming little streets of trulli walking in town is not so charming, with impatient drivers and narrow if any sidewalks. So what does the savvy visitor do? Head out of town on a country side walk.

Just chilling with a trullo. And a massive old olive tree.
The 50th trullo is just as fascinating as the 1st.
The olive trees will also stop you in your tracks for a closer look.
Trulli lane. There are enough stones around here to build houses and walls.

We quickly left town behind and the countryside felt very rural. It sounded rural too. The barking dogs had us both grab a couple of small stones for our pockets as dog bite deterrents, but we didn’t need them. All dogs were safely contained. And once we left the outskirts of town there were few people and fewer dogs. Off season this area was quiet, in season the vacation dwellings probably have a lot of life. Vaccination note: since we love to ramble on back roads on foot and on bike, we got vaccinated for rabies – which means if we get bitten by a dog we need only one fairly available shot instead of the full and less available course of shots. On our hike out of Sorrento Rich did indeed get nipped by a little terror of a terrier, but it didn’t break the skin. We’re glad we got those vaccinations.

A garden trullo, maybe a storage shed, with Rich added for scale.
There were trullo in need of attention.
There were trulli which were truly scrumptious.
And there were trulli looking for new owners. Anyone?
This became a perfect walk. Sunshine, snow on the ground, and eye catching scenery
Muddy lanes and olive groves.
Giving the Swiss firewood stackers a run for their money, firewood in the shape of a trullo.
Getting to Alberobello is a lovely train ride, the train is going the perfect speed for sightseeing.
Puglia regional train and a happy traveler.
Two happy travelers. We spent one night in Alberobello, then back to Bari for a night, and on to Rome.

As our trip back to the US gets closer we’re both getting very excited to see family and friends. See you all soon.

Ciao Italia!

This is the country where we are most likely to overeat, over indulge, and find ourselves over padded as a result.

Overlooking the town of Amalfi. We got to this height via an elevator.

How to avoid this? Move. Just keep moving. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Have a hiking day. Walk the long way home after dinner out. Walking and biking are second nature to us, so that’s what we do when we get somewhere.

The hike from Sorrento to Massa Lubrense involved loads of up and down and stunning views.
It was fairly well signed, and took us through beautiful rural areas.
The green netting is enclosing lemon groves.
Chestnut poles hold up the netting and provide freeze and sunburn protection. So many lemons.
This view was well earned. Looking towards Sorrento.

If we have a train day, we make sure to have an active day next. Of course, some train days involve loads of walking too. We rarely take taxis, we walk to and from train stations or take a local bus. Being sensitive to the impact of car traffic on cities encourages us not to add to it. Walking gives you more time to notice things and grounds you geographically. I’m slightly directionally challenged, landmarks are how I navigate. That shop, this fountain, a row of green flower pots, all help me find my way though new places.

Above Amalfi, the town of Lone where some buildings rise out of rock.
Beautiful picnic spots of the world.

The Amalfi coast has so many trails, walkways and tiny roads to explore. And stairways. So many stairways. Our day hiking above Amalfi was one of the most memorable hikes we’ve done. The coast road is more famous, but the paths and small roads are what we love.

Donkey power in action.
Trail markers and water fountains. It was not at all hot when we were there, but in summer the water taps would be a very welcome sight.
Cat spotting!

Are all of our hikes blissful and conflict free? No. We have very different paces and one of us, the tall one, hikes much faster than the other shorter one. In an attempt to get more of a work out Rich came bounding back down the first big staircase climb out of Amalfi as I was struggling up. Morale killer? Yes. Squabble? Yes. I demanded that he turn around and then after I passed him I insisted he go back down as far as he wanted as I hiked on – in the lead for once! Temporarily, but happily.

The stunning water color and a view of the famous coastal road.
Starting a travel day with an early bus from Amalfi. Not much view on a rainy day with the windows steaming up.
Second breakfast before catching a train to Bari.
The travel planner taking a break to enjoy the view. And mentally plot the next hike.
Trains are the best! Crossing from the west coast to the east took us through the Apennine Mountains. And snow.

The weather cooperated for our first full day in Bari so we rented bikes and headed down the coast, knowing there was a train to take back and enjoying the tailwind.

Heading out of Bari in the sun with a smile.
Passing a field of abandoned Trullo, the stone buildings of the Puglia region.
We had to go check them out. So off the road we went.
A bit muddier than expected.
Lunchtime in Polignano a Mare. Go right to the place with a line for take out panzerotti. Like a hot pocket sandwich, a cousin to calzone.
Lunch with a view.
And back to Bari on the train. While I’m always grateful for bike cars on trains, I hate bike hooks. I’m never confident that I can lift my bike up, and I certainly couldn’t lift the heavy rental bike up. If you ever wonder what the term “ableism” means – this is it.

So this is how we stay healthy and happy. But, six months in we have learned that Rich absolutely needs more exercise than me. He’ll be upgrading to a slightly larger travel backpack so he can add running shoes to his kit. And I’ll be better at not getting mad when he bounds back down a hill I’m still climbing so he can turn around and go up again. (Seriously, who does this?)

The happy travelers. Up next, Rome and 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.

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.

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?

Kitty Heaven

Owning the room. Lounging on top of the mini fridge.

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.

Cats gotta box sit.

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.

A pint of milk please.

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?

So of course the cats love him. First lap sitter goes right to Rich.

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.”.

A Siamese scans the room.

We only stayed for one pint, but what a happy pint it was.

Sit at the bar for more cat access.
Besides the cats being adorable, you can be fairly confident that you have at least one thing in common with the other patrons: you all like cats.
The rules.

Vinyl on the sound system. Beer in hand. Cat on lap. Heaven.

The boxes are labeled.
Little black kitty on the move.
Oh yeah, no idiot pub crawls!

If you’re a cat lover and in Bristol, it’s a great place to visit. Review the rules first and do not squeal.

Wales

We are so fortunate to have good friends who live in Wales. Staying with them allows us to see another side of this beautiful green coastal area.

The Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. Cute puffins and challenging Welsh language.

Green fields means rain. Rain means rainbows. We have not been disappointed by the quantity of stunning rainbows.

Rainbow over Tenby.
A nice blue sky background for this one.
Full Tenby South Beach rainbow with Rich added for scale.

For anyone who hasn’t heard a Welsh accent, find the UK series – Gavin & Stacey, a Welsh and English comedytelevision series written by James Corden and Ruth Jones about two families: one in Billericay, Essex; one in Barry, South Wales. (From Wikipedia.) A really fun series.

All the signs are in Welsh and English, pronunciation is tough.

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.

Looks like the setting for a good gothic novel.
Terrifying view down to the ocean down a slot.
This area cries out for a geologist guide to accompany you.

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.

On the busy train to Camarthen. Nice to see the trains busy.

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.

Happy to have the flexibility to travel the way we love.
And happy and lucky to have friends who live in lovely Tenby who have us to stay..

Next up? Bath, Bristol, friends in West Sussex, Leicester, and then Morocco. Rich will write about the travel planning during COVID challenges. Happy travels.