Two fun trips from Tetouan.

Tetouan seems not to be on the main tourist route here in Morocco, which is a shame. We had four great days here, enough time to fully explore the Medina, and the new town, and take two trips out of the city proper.

Our first was an afternoon trip via taxi (16 MAD, about 15 minutes, we tipped by rounding up to 20) across the river and up the hills to be dropped off near Café Ba Imran. There are some roads to walk along both in the pine trees to the left with your back to the view, and along the mountain road to the right. Tetouan has some hiking gold still to embrace. All it would take is some marked trails in the Rif mountains and tourists like us would flock in the cooler months, and summer for the tougher travelers, to hike up and marvel at the views. End with a mint tea at the cafe and then walk back down the way the taxi came up and you will catch another taxi in no time. Especially on a weekend when this is a popular family spot. We took the smaller yellow taxis and found the drivers were friendly and didn’t haggle over the price. We did have a local help us tell the driver where to go on the outbound trip. Holding up the iPhone map might have worked as well, but friendly locals to the rescue again.

The view back to town.
A walk along a road under construction.

Our hill walking trip was fun and uneventful, but our next day trip was super fun and eventful. And beautiful. And eye opening.

Rich and the rental car.

We had read on another blog that renting a car and driving the coast road to El Jebha was a nice day trip out of town. Thank you other blogger whom I cannot find right now. Rich did some research and found a well recommended, responsive, and nearby rental agency, so off we went on Monday morning to drive in Morocco. This might not be a big deal for some travelers who rent cars a lot, but we prefer to travel by bus, train, or under our own power, and I don’t drive much at all so the driving falls to Rich. Thankfully we both know how to drive manual transmissions which is what you tend to get when renting outside the US.

We saw lovely promenades along beautiful but empty beaches. Oued Laou is a summer hot spot we suspect, but quiet on a November Monday.
We had a second breakfast near the beach.
We drove along enjoying the sights and marveling at how quickly the rural areas started.
The road was obviously an important economic link for locals. There were not many cars but many people walking and shared rides/taxis in old Mercedes sedans.
A lunch of grilled fish in El Jebha.
The grilled fish was delicious.
The oceanfront restaurant had us at pink tablecloths and potted plants.

Well, we thought after lunch as we turned around to drive the winding steep road back to Tetouan, this is working out really well. Cue laughter. We stopped to get petrol on the way back and Rich moved the car from the pumps to outside the toilets.

Yup.

When he got back in to start up again, the clutch failed. That car was not going to start or move. The makings of a panicked situation? Disaster? A big mess? No. The owner of the rental agency had a tow truck to us 20 minutes after Rich sent a WhatsApp. We shared our location, sat down for a glass of mint tea ready to wait, and Abdul was there with a tow truck in short order. Thankfully we were at a petrol station when the clutch failed, not on a narrow or steep stretch of road with no cell signal. That might have been a disaster.

Relief, and the realization that we were going to get a ride in the tow truck.

What could have been a pretty awful situation turned into another opportunity to chat with a local in a mix of Spanish and English. Abdul drove with a local radio station playing, we chatted, Rich got to enjoy the view as a passenger, the sunset was beautiful and all was well.

Riding high.
The view through the windshield.

When unexpected things happen we put on our Rick Steves voice and say “Just think of it as another opportunity to connect with locals and have a different experience.”.

The happy travelers enjoying the coast before our tow truck trip.

We’re now in Chefchaouen and then on to Fes. Happy Thanksgiving to our American friends and family.

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.

Down the Loire Valley by bike and train.

We left Colmar by train on a forecast rainy day and did a 3 train hop to Nevers during which it rained very satisfyingly hard. It made me very happy to hear that rain pelt the train windows while we were warm and dry inside.

Almost all of the French trains we’ve caught have been low floor boarding with good bike space.
Happy travel planner. One transfer was cross platform and the other had ramps to and from the platforms.

Train travel tip with bikes: always leave super early to ride to the train station, you never know what will suck up that extra time. So far we’ve had: crowded market day along the route, broken elevators requiring unloading and carrying bags and bikes up and down stairs, massive construction projects leading to circumnavigating the entire station, and uncooperative ticket machines (we usually book on line but the website was down.). So pad that trip with extra time. The worst that happens is that you’re early and get to hang out on the platform wondering which carriages will have the bike logo on the side – near where you’re standing or a trot down the platform?

Low floor boarding. A fan favorite.

We’ve found the local French trains, Ters or regional, reliably have a bike car at the front of the train, and usually at least one if not more further down. If you’re really not sure where the bike space will be, figure out which way the train is traveling and stand at the end of the platform where the train arrives. You’ll be able to see the marked bike cars and can always run down the platform if you need to.

Café Velo in Nevers, France. We stayed in one their lovely upstairs apartments.

Another good tip is to make sure you can take your panniers off quickly, not only to make the bike lighter to lift up stairs, but to be able to stack the bikes efficiently in the bike area. Also so that you can do a quick bag removal, toss the bags into the train and then lift your bike in all while panicking that the train will try to leave without you. The station at Nevers did not have ramps or elevators, us and three other cyclists did the unload bags, carry down carry up, wondering aloud what people with mobility issues would do. We found the answer to that question, which is hail a member of staff and they will help you cross the tracks at the end of the platform. Strictly prohibited for general use. Of course, we were also told that finding a member of staff can be difficult, but now we know.

A narrow street in Nevers.
The cathedral was bombed “accidentally” during WWII and rebuilt. The stained glass windows are from about 1948 and so modern.
The St. James scallop shell in the upper right corner caught my attention.
And then we ran into two pilgrims walking the Camino and took photos together. They had about 1,333 kms to go to Santiago Spain. They absolutely looked up to the challenge.

We rolled out of Nevers and started the Loire River Eurovelo Route 6, heading west.

Quite a bit of levee riding at times, but those smiles mean we had tailwinds.
Lunch in Pouilly Fumé, drinking… Pouilly Fumé.
This canal has the unromantic name of lateral canal to the Loire. We renamed it canal of green.
We hit rain and found shelter at a Loire nature center. We stayed for quite a while while the heavy rain passed through and ate everything in our food pannier. Made for a varied and interesting lunch.
Met a lovely young American cyclist also sheltering from the rain, Toby. It was his first bike tour and I’d say he’s hooked.
The Loire is a wild river. Loads of islands, sandbars, and very untamed banks. Amazing bird life.
My new favorite style of picnic table, built up against the parapet so you can take in the view.

One of the joys about not having to plan too far in advance, or being so busy sorting out places to stay, so that we don’t really know what’s coming up, is being surprised by something like the Pont Canal de Briare.

And what is it, exactly, this exciting canal?
Only water over water! Our old friend Lateral Canal crosses the Loire River in a 662 meter stretch of gorgeous steel and masonry. That’s almost half of a mile of aqueduct canal.
Green painted creatures guard the canal.
Across goes Rich. We were delighted that Eurovelo 6 travels on the canal towpath.
This canal deserves all the photos. It’s a marvel.
Riding into Gien. That’s the lovely Château de Gien behind an equally lovely Rich.
Happy cyclists enjoying a picnic table with a view of the wild Loire River.

We may push on to the Atlantic Ocean, or we may not. There are more Châteaus to see and more wild river to enjoy. Happy pedaling.

What to eat along the way.

Week four of nearly daily cycling means quite a bit of eating and being sure we have plenty of water during the day. Breakfasts are mostly included at the hotels we stay at, so that’s one meal sorted each day.

A typical picnic lunch, but with an actual picnic table. Quite the timely find. Our hedgehog patterned tea towel/tablecloth/napkin, and the striped bag which has bamboo cutlery, a sharp knife, and a corkscrew are picnic necessities.

Our lunches are usually picnic style, with sandwiches purchased at a bakery in the morning. We feel qualified to critic sandwiches by county so far: Switzerland – too much mayo or salad cream or sauce! We resorted to scraping and squeezing excess goop off the sandwiches which were mostly purchased at supermarkets.

Sandwiches on board, ready for de-mayonnaising.

Switzerland doesn’t seem to have the quantity of bakeries we are enjoying in Germany. And, German ready made sandwiches are mostly mayo free. Butter on the bread holds up much better, and cucumber, lettuce, tomato and even a slice of hard boiled egg makes for a very nice lunch. Oh yes, and lovely seeded rolls! German sandwiches get the nod so far.

Apples have been a constant presence in my front bag.
We pick them here.
We pick them there.
The tall guy can pick them anywhere!
These little red ones with very white flesh are my favorite. The green ones with a touch of red are so tart!

Why so many apple trees along the roads? I’m not certain. We only pick from those that are obviously not part of an orchard which is someones living, and I’ve read a few different reasons for why so many apple trees dotting the landscape. Perhaps from 17th century laws requiring grooms to plant oak and apple trees before marrying, maybe the more common sense and practical notion that tree lined roads are lovely and apple trees do well. We also had a week of plums gleaned from trees in villages which were so overloaded they were dropping on the street.

Finding benches in the shade is a never ending quest. Should have removed my wet laundry from the back of my bike before taking this photo.

We have also learned the difficult and squabbling way that we have enough energy after a long day cycling to check in to a hotel, unpack (ie dump panniers upside on the floor), shower, and get drinks and dinner at ONE place. Not drinks at one place and move on to dinner at another – that doesn’t end well for hangry cyclists. Pick a place that meets both needs. Thankfully, Biergartens abound!

This pumpkin soup at a Biergarten in Beilngreis was fantastic.
Why yes, I am about to demolish this huge plate of food.

Stay well fed and carry plenty water, refill water when the opportunity presents itself, and happy pedaling!

Three things that make travel more fun.

For years we’ve been thankful that we live a city life that makes travel less frightening than it is for some travelers. Three things we do on a regular basis here in SF make our trips easier, less daunting, and help us have a wider variety of experiences.

Buses. Being transit friendly makes getting around a joy. My favorite transit app is Citymapper. Citymapper has opened up a world of transit that used to be quite challenging to figure out. In London, like most tourists, we would be tied to the underground, with the confusing but understandable and always available map, but now, with Citymapper we use buses a lot. You can plug in your destination and be directed to the best bus routes, shown where the stop is, and the app will ping you before it’s time for you to get off the bus. No worries about missing your stop. The best part about riding a bus is being above ground and getting to appreciate the city – especially from the top of a double decker.

Riding the bus in Honolulu.
BorisBike on a London bicycle super highway. Now that’s bike infrastructure.

Bikes (of course!). Ever since I first used the Washington DC bikeshare while there for a conference years ago, and had my eyes opened about what a game changer bikeshare is, I believe that bikeshare, especially electric assist bike share, is the ultimate urban transportation. Fast, convenient, clean, space efficient. We’ve ridden bikeshares in SF, Glasgow, London, Washington DC, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Honolulu, Aspen and are looking forward to many more rides in many more cities. Similar to being comfortable on public transit, being a confident and safe urban cyclist opens up a lot of experiences you might otherwise miss. If you aren’t a comfortable urban cyclist I highly recommend taking an urban skills bike course.

We were not expecting bikeshare in Aspen Colorado, it was a welcome surprise, as were the inspirational bike quotes on the back wheel skirt guards/fenders.
On the Camino Ingles with an old friend and a new friend who joined us for a few miles.

Walking. Here in San Francisco we think nothing of walking a mile or two to dinner and home again. Yesterday we walked 1.2 miles to our dentist (Thank you Nikki! You rock!) had a Raman lunch, and walked home again. While traveling we cover a lot of miles sightseeing. Our base level of walking fitness serves us well. Before traveling it’s a great plan to walk a lot so you’re ready to do 6 or 7 miles exploring a new city, and to make sure that your walking shoes are up to the task of helping you explore. And have your Citymapper app ready to help you get home if you need a boost!

A hike in Kep, Cambodia.

Being flexible with your transportation will help you have so many more experiences than when you are limited to driving or taking taxis. And, having those options will give you the confidence you need to get out and explore. Some of our best times have come not from a planned destination, but from a serendipitous find while out on bikes, buses or foot.

A Camino marker in Porto, Portugal.

Happy Travels!