And One Month Later….

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been back in the US for almost two months, and apologies for the month gap in our blog, a record for sure.

Back in San Francisco and enjoying the amazing new Tunnel Tops Park in the Presidio; love the movable furniture!

We’ve been having too much fun seeing friends and family in Palm Springs, Moorpark and more recently, visiting our favorite SF haunts and enjoying the beautiful Northern California winter. Not to mention bingeing on all the World Cup. Felicitaciones Argentina!

View across Tunnel Tops. Always something new and wonderful in the Bay Area
A new bike path extension to the Golden Gate
A short but always inspiring meet up with our fellow nomad DNT.

But as other nomads have related, retuning “home” is sometimes a bit tough, and strangely disorienting, especially when you know that you’re heading back out into the world again as nomads. It now feels more like a refueling stop, with the primary energy being friends (and tacos!) Nomadic life is endlessly stimulating, but without a base of friends and family to pivot off of, it might seem less invigorating. Contrast in life keeps it fresh.

San Francisco welcomed us with a beautiful sunset…you’re not making this easy SF.
Back riding with the boys on Twin Peaks…so missed this!
Ramen and Udon fix at Marugame in SF.

We’ve also been reunited with some of our “stuff” in a local storage unit. It’s always exciting to roll up the storage unit door and see what is there. Luckily, most clothes to swap out for our visit and onward travels are near the front. It does beg the question of saving so many things, but we know that when we settle down again somewhere, we’ll enjoy seeing so many familiar things again in a permanent setting. Right?

Champion and I excited about a walk!
Mission Creek Preserve in Desert Hot Springs
Walking the dogs in the vast landscape of the California mountain deserts
Happy hour smiles in Southern California
Cheryl and Boba “the cutest and friendliest kitten in the world!”.
Thousand Oaks delivered peaceful scenery, oaks and even water during a late fall hike in Wildwood Park

But after 16 months of travel, we are now a bit awestruck by how streamlined our travel lives are compared to the complexities of typical American life. No home, no car, a few bills…a bag or two and sometimes bicycles. Life is a trade off, and many of our peers could choose to simplify and travel more, but for many, selling it all and going mobile may be just a bit too much.

Christmas and Victorians were made for each other! Hayes Street, SF
Selfie during a run up Twin Peaks…and yes, I’m that guy without Bluetooth earbuds…too easy to lose traveling!

It was not an easy decision for us either. And for many, simply renting your place out is an option, so you can return to your previous life with less of the uncertainties that selling creates. Of course, having no dependent kids or pets helps, and we recognize that this window in our lives to travel may be unique and precious.

Catching up over coffee with our friend, and our ace SF real estate agent Lisa from Polaris
Garlic noodles at Perilla in the Inner Sunset – Check!
San Francisco fire stations have an annual Christmas light competition…it was on in Portola/West Portal.
Being home means baking with friends in Oakland

Home is nice, and the longevity of friends and place gives you a unique perspective on the passage of time. So we especially appreciate the generosity of our friends sharing their homes (or dinner) with us as we return for these recharge sessions. Thank you to all for your generosity and please know we will try to repay someday when we again have some roots in the ground. (Especially Rich and Andi -:)

Hiking up Montara Mountain…the drama of the Bay Area landscape is striking after travels.
The San Mateo Coast south of San Francisco offers endless beauty and secret beaches.
More hiking with good friends in Redwood City

We’ve now just arrived to an usually cold and snowy Seattle after a somewhat leisurely 3 day drive from the Bay Area, catching up with good friends and family along the way. We have two house sits (x2 cats each). Hopefully now away from most of our friends and family I’ll be able to get back to the important tasks of global travel planing for 2023. But the Pacific Northwest is so intriguing….so many places to explore; hmmm?

Cats eye view in North Seattle

But today the streets are still coated in snow and ice, so we’ll wait for the forthcoming thaw and settle into the coziness of our temporary cats, and sip coffee and tea as we look out into the evergreen and snow landscape. More on our Pacific Northwest winter excursion soon, as well as our scenarios for 2023 travel. Still no “plans” -:)

Happy travelers back in Buena Vista Park

Happy Holidays and safe travels to all!

From Bari to the Bay…

We get a lot of questions about long-term travel and what is it like when you return after 7 months abroad. First off, it’s wonderful to see friends and family again. Nothing beats it.

When will the Coliseum be so empty again? A unique time to travel.

But now that we’ve been back in the US a little over a week, I can tell you that it IS a bit of culture shock. We have experienced so much together, and adjusted to a life where people and places are constantly unfamiliar. Our first reaction when landing in Chicago was how clean everything looked. As much as we loved Rome and live in awe in the layers of history, there is little arguing that it is a pretty untidy city. Dirty, some might say. It’s hard to get 2,500 years of urban stains off things, right? America is actually pretty tidy, or at least we hide our trash well.

Gritty and organic Rome, some wouldn’t want it any other way.

The second thing we noticed immediately is the change in scale and space. Ah yes, precious elbow room, as almost everything in the U.S. is upsized. It felt nice to stroll the endless connected Chicago sidewalks, with plenty of room to pass, and streets wide enough to turn a stagecoach.

The venerable Pasticceria Boccione in Rome, which features 300-yr old recipes for wood-fired Pizza Ebraica and other Kosher treats. Luckily, Cheryl was already inside!

And after arriving in Colorado this week, we can’t help but be awestruck by the vastness in which many of us live, especially in the American West. There is really nothing in Europe that even comes close, and I think this is why Europeans (and Americans of course) especially love to travel to this area, and always insist on going to Vegas. They are unique, vast, and truly American. And they do define who we are, as most Americans are more comfortable in a Costco than a compact urban Bodega.

Yup, lots of space here in Western Colorado.

Finally, I realized that the past 7 months has changed us and our outlook. Cliches about travel aside, we absorbed more European (and Moroccan) culture and, as with all good travels, take the positive aspects with us. For me, I have learned to truly enjoy slow coffee and the plaza cafe culture. The impact on your psyche from the wet and dark Northern European winter. (Gimme sun!)

Our wonderful Italian hosts in Conversano: embracing the joy of a long family lunch

And the pure and simple pleasure of a 3-hour Italian dinner with new friends. You need to have a general humility when you approach foreign cultures as an outsider. Embrace the new, and adjust your expectations. And maybe now I’m a bit more patient….maybe.

New family friends in Italy after a typical Italian breakfast of a Cornetto and caffe.

Travel is also always unique because it happens in the context of the time. We experienced the end of one COVID wave and rode out the first surge of Omicron. The pandemic has mostly been a shared global experience that immediately connects you. The recent drama and tragic unfolding of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is of global concern, but also a way to immediately connect with other travelers or locals.

City hall rally in support of Ukraine, Bari, Italy

So first a few logistics updates on how we got here? From Bari in Puglia, we caught one of two daily intercity trains to Rome. (They actually start further south in Lecce). We opted for the morning train, as the late afternoon train arrived Rome at 9pm, and we always find arriving a foreign city is especially disorienting after dark. We stayed in the Travestere neighborhood of Rome, which is an excellent alternative to the more touristed and hectic side of the Tiber river.

Elevenses in the UK or just a late breakfast cycling break off the Appian Way – Ciccolado caldo and a Sfogliatella

It was also easy to catch the bus or tram to the airport trains at the Roma Travesterre train station. The train connection to Rome Fucinolo airport is excellent and nice new trains leave every 15-20 minutes.

Catching the airport train….still traveling light after all the pizza and pasta!

For our air travel, we again flew TAP Airways from Rome To Chicago via Lisbon. TAP is a member of Star Alliance, and has nice new A330s on most of their long haul services. Very comfortable seats in a 2-4-2 layout in economy. I also highly recommend getting the Plus fare, as for just a bit more money, you get seats in the ExtraEconomy section, two checked bags, and priority check-in. Worth it if you’re tall, and as we noted, our section was less crowded that standard economy. The other big upside of TAP is that they sell one-way fares à la carte, so no penalty versus outrageous one-way fares still charged by the bigger legacy airlines such as Lufthansa and United.

Sparkling new airport trains to Roma Fiumicino. Luggage racks, digital displays, and USB power sockets….check!

The downside of TAP is the Lisbon airport itself….it can get very crowded, and the gate/plane connections are often via shuttle buses from the tarmac, as were both our arrival and departures this trip. But they do pass the savings on to you! They also allow free stopovers in Lisbon or Porto, which is great, and a way to break up the LIS airport experience.

Sticking to our preferred travel modes to O’Hare – CTA bus to the Blue Line El…a bargain in Airport transfers at $2.50, and easy with contactless payment

We arrived to Chicago pretty late, so stayed at a convenient Airpot hotel before visiting family near the Airport, and then two Metra trains to connect with other great friends, who generously hosted us for 4 nights. As a bonus, it was St Patrick’s Day and the Chicago river had a visible green tinge. Americans love to celebrate our immigrant culture, which is still a huge differentiator from many countries in the world. The brave and bold immigrants who continually arrive in the United States are a strength that should not be underestimated.

Exploring the fantastic elevated 606 trail in North Chicago is even better with good friends!

Another wonder of America is the food, as we quickly checked off 3 major food cravings; a great Mexican platter, Thai/Lao delight, and a heaping bowl of ramen. Oh, soooo good! The food in Italy is amazing, but these American taste buds miss the foods of the world.

A Classic Roman lunch in Travestere: Tonnarelli Cace e Pepe, Trippa alla Romana, and Cicoria Strascinata in Padella.

So as we head back to California this week, we are filled with the anticipation of the familiar world of the San Francisco Bay Area, but also both feel a bit of apprehension. We are different people than the working, locally engaged homeowners of a year ago. We have embraced the vagabond life, worked hard to get to this place of freedom, and both know know that we still have a lot of the world and new passions to explore.

Getting our America on in Devil’s Canyon, CO

We will settle down again some day, and when we do, will invite everyone we have met to join us…but not quite yet.

Where to next Cheryl?

Happy Traveling!

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.

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.

Car Free in the Lake District in Winter?…Why Yes!

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.

Dramatic winter skies ascending near Grasmere

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…-;)

Can we do this without a car?

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.

Our row cottage in Keswick came with a friendly outdoor kitty neighbor no charge and a 5-10 minute walk to town or the bus
Cheryl trying to cajole an adorable Lake District sheep to follow her home

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!

Morning light on Derwentwater in the Lake District NP

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.

The 78 bus to the end of the line at Seatoller…schedules, a shelter, and multiple trailheads
Cheryl ready to hike…the other friendly passengers were day tripping photography buffs from Manchester

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.

Hey, there goes our bus!

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.

On the way to Styhead Tarn; did we mention there is water everywhere!

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.

Fragile sub-alpine tundra above 500m
The surprising alpine world of northwest England…Styhead Tarn near the Great Gable

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.

Returning on the upper deck just before the early winter sun set
The backbone 555 bus runs throughout the core of the district and will connect you to the train in Windemere…closed double deck BTW

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.

Yes, it WAS chilly on the open top bus, but the views will keep you warm

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.

Information is key! Most stops had schedules and route info.

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.

Less sun, more dramatic colors
Walla Crag view on a misty winter day
But the sun was out today!

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.

Gourmet Scotch Eggs from the Keswick farmers market are the ultimate winter hiking food

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.

The intrepid travelers press on despite some serious hat head

Day 22 on Survivor, COVID Island.

Leaving London for Liverpool on an early tube to train.

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!

Hello Liverpool. By the Albert Docks, Museum of Liverpool in the background.
The River Mersey and a large ferry.
The historic wet docks of 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.

Old lock miter gates, not in use at this location but impressive to see.

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.

Liverpool Cathedral is the largest cathedral and religious building in Britain. Seriously huge.
One of the many fascinating brick buildings around town.

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.

Albert Dock – heat lamp and sheltered.
Rope Walks neighborhood for tea. No shelter, no heat lamp.
Pub garden, shelter and blankets, no heat lamps.
COVID cold weather unicorn: pub garden with shelter, heat lamps, and next door pizza take away. The lovely bartender even brings out utensils and a pizza cutter for our calzones.

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.

The chilly but happy travelers.

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.

Good Day Sunshine!

Happy New Year everyone! I think 2022 is going to be great. Why? We woke this New Year’s morning to the rarest of sights- sunlight and shadows; the first real sunshine since we stepped out of a taxi at the Marrakech Airport….20 days ago. (Wait, why did we leave Morocco?)

Some early morning sun in Regent’s Park

Apparently December set some sort of record for gloom in the UK; which is saying something. We’ve been leaning into the dark winter, but have a new appreciation for the Northern European lust for sunshine by January…we even started taking Vitamin D last week, and the tanning bed salons looked a little less repulsive to us. A little less.

Soaking up the five minutes of sun in late December!
More New Year’s Day shadows in Regents Park

But New Year’s morning was indeed a glorious London Day and we took full advantage of it by immediately heading up Primrose Hill to take in the beautiful view and then exploring on foot Marylebone down to the heart of the royal parks of St. James, Green, and Hyde Park. And we were just enough ahead of the masses to experience a very peaceful central London.

Cheryl loving the newly improved sidewalks and pedestrian zones of central London.
New Year’s Day Horse Guard preparations. Beautiful horses, but unfortunately no jousting
Easy to get bike shares anywhere in London with a contactless credit card £2/day for unlimited 30 minute trips

We also had some fun conversations with some local youngsters who had been up all night and just about ready to sleep after taking in the sunrise on Primrose Hill. Oh yeah, we’re hip too kids, we just left out the part of going to bed at 10:30!

Warm winter weather means outdoor dining has still been in play.

So thanks to the kindness of some very generous friends, we have spent the past week living a bit like locals in the beautiful North London neighborhood of Primrose Hill.

Great pubs everywhere…this one above Hamstead Heath

It’s been great to explore in all directions by foot, tube, and bike share, as we continue to discover more of the London magic, and the layers of overlapping neighborhoods, pathways, alleys, and mews

Near the highest point in London at Whitestone Pond…easy views through the mostly bare trees.
The atmospheric Hill Garden and Pergola in Golder’s Hill Park

So we had originally planned (and actually had tickets) to go back to France on the train tomorrow, but that’s been postponed at least a few weeks due to non-essential travel border ban from UK imposed due to Omicron.

Modern Hall Park…the southern end of the Northern Line..more typical weather

It’s all quite political as both sides of the channel have massive case loads and spread, so (tested!) travelers are a blip on the trajectory of the pandemic.

These beautiful Egyptian geese were a little too friendly!

We have learned that it’s very important to look at how countries have responded to different phases of the pandemic to understand how new restrictions may be imposed again. (i.e. Morocco!).

Our favorite pastime…canal walking
I will be Cap’n of a canal boat someday…dreaming at the London Canal Museum
Most of the glorious London Area canals used to be off limits until the 1970s…so hope for all the private canal right of ways in the USA.

So instead we have decided to head to the Lake District for a week to do some nice winter hiking, and exploring…but first with a stopover in Liverpool, which has been reborn and is loaded with great museums and sites, in addition to some famous band apparently being from there.

New Year’s Eve takeout noodles in an Islington Pub beer garden.
Riding on in the New Year!

Stay tuned, stay safe, and Happy New Year to all!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting for our room while relaxing by the pool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe , and Happy Holidays all.