Back in my 30’s I told my husband that I reserved the right to have a breast lift in my 50s. As a larger breasted woman I knew a time was coming when the complicated relationship I had with my chest would become simply annoying – like a party guest who overstays their welcome, and I imagined, in a non specific way, doing something about it.
And then for twenty years or so I pretty much forgot about the idea of surgery. I bought more expensive bras which did a good job of keeping me feeling confident and fairly comfortable. And my breasts were just something about me. Something I never really liked, but just part of who I was. But what woman hasn’t been annoyed or shamed or maddened by someone commenting on her breasts. Or her body in general. Not just men commenting, but mostly men.
And then, in May 2022, the New York Times published this article by the talented writer Melissa Febos. The Feminist Case for Breast Reduction.
It was a lightbulb going on. An ah-ha moment. She had the words that I had never searched for about what it was like to live with unwanted attention for an accidental genetic attribute. I am sure that my sometimes quite prickly personality comes in part from people feeling free to comment on my breasts from a terribly early age. What 12 or 13 year old has the language or confidence to clap back at an adult man or peer boy who has absolutely overstepped today’s standards, but not the standards of the 1970s? Want to see a young girl shrink into herself? Comment on her body.
I started researching breast reduction and started really resenting the limitations large breasts cause, and resenting even more the objectification society puts on women. I shared my feelings with my wonderful husband and he was, as expected, amazing and accepting and supportive.
We discussed where. The US was not really on our radar since the cost would be higher there and we both have a high level of comfort with healthcare around the world. We considered Türkiye, we’d been there last April and felt that Istanbul or Izmir would be good places to stay for a few weeks. But Thailand rose to the top of the list because I read good things about experiences there, and we know and enjoy Bangkok. And we hadn’t been to Thailand for five years, and could work it into broader Asia travels. Thailand is well known for medical tourism, so you can find a lot of information on line.
I contacted a company called Medical Departures and was sent two quotes for two different hospitals and doctors. I choose Yanhee International Hospital because they specialize in cosmetic and plastic surgery, and because it is right next to an MRT line, the Blue Line. Yup, our desire to have good access to public transit does influence all our decisions. I was able to research the Doctor on line and got a sense of his level of experience and how many of these types of surgeries he had preformed. I arranged two appointments, a consultation and an actual surgery date. These were confirmed December 1, 2022, for January 19th for consultation and mammogram, and 20th for surgery.
We both agreed that if anything felt off, or if either of us wasn’t comfortable with the hospital or Doctor we’d hit the brakes. I didn’t share our plan with anyone- sorry good friends and family, I needed to be in my bubble about this and didn’t think I could handle any kind of reaction from my nearest and dearest. I have pledged to never do that again. Rich took the brunt of that decision since he had no one to support him. So, for anyone else considering this, consider your partner’s need for support versus your desire for privacy. We had each other for support, which was enough for us, for this decision.
The incredibly well staffed hospital was clearly signed with a specific check-in desk for international customers, and we were accompanied up to a waiting room and given a number. For our consultation appointment we did spend the usual amount of time waiting before meeting the doctor, and then a lot of time waiting to complete the blood draw, EKG, mammogram, ultrasound mammogram, and chest x-ray. We broke the cardinal rule of hospital visits – we failed to bring a phone charger. And snacks. We both felt a little shaken when at first the Doctor seemed to have no idea that we had booked a surgery date already, but then the international coordinator, a young man with a clipboard, showed up and all was well.
Six hours of tests, signing consent forms, paying with a credit card, waiting, and one lunch in the hospital cafe later, we were sent off with an appointment slip for the next day and instructions for me to neither eat nor drink anything after midnight.
I’m not sure international elective surgery is for everyone, you need a certain level of acceptance that you’re going to feel at a loss at times. When two nurses are chatting in Thai while trying and failing to get an IV in the back of your hand – that requires a strong belief that all will be well. Turns out I have small and deep veins in my hands so after 3 tries (yikes!), the very calm anesthesiologist whom I’d met the day before told me he would put the IV in my hand once I was under. Phew!
Not since I was a child with a fractured jaw have I been put under general anesthesia so I have no experience to compare this to. Was it what we in the US would consider usual? No idea. I breathed in through my mouth as instructed and woke up to a nurse gently patting my cheeks and saying Madam, Madam. It was three or four hours later and when they rolled me back to my room there was my husband. What a welcome sight. I’m sure he has more to say about what it’s like to be the one waiting for surgery to be over, but I will be forever grateful for his support and planning skills and calm manner.
Apparently in the US this surgery is sometimes accompanied by an overnight stay in the hospital, sometimes a same day discharge, but at this hospital they planned for a three night stay. I asked for a two night stay after the first night, since all seemed to be going well, and the Doctor agreed.
We’ve just returned from the first follow up appointment where some of the stitches were removed and the dressings changed. We will have one more follow appointment in five days where the final stitches will be removed and off we’ll go to our next adventure.
One final thought, I’ve been grateful to be strong and healthy for so long. Able to do everything I want to do – bicycle tour, hike long distances, travel with Rich, enjoy family and friends – now I look forward to doing everything I do with a bit more comfort. As I was signing consent forms the day before surgery the lovely Thai nurse, dressed as all female staff were in fitted lavender skirts and jackets, with matching nurse hats, said “Madam, this is consent form for breast reduction.“ she broke from form for a moment and sighed, and gestured to her own chest, “And god has not given me enough.” So many of us have complicated relationships with our bodies. I’m glad to have been able to make mine a bit less complicated.
We’ve been talking about doing the Camino Del Norte for years, ever since we did the Camino Inglés and loved it. So here we are. Rich and I started in Irún and we met our friends Christine and Cecily in San Sebastián, and from there we will all walk to Bilbao.
We won’t be going all the way to Santiago this time. Time constraints. But we are thrilled to be able to hike with friends.
Not many words in this post. The day gets away from you with 13 miles of walking, a lot of catching up to do, and tired legs to rest. Buen Camino!
We had a wonderful two weeks house sitting in Mt. Temple, a hilly part of the Irish Midlands. It was a chance to really slow down our pace, listen to the sounds of rural Ireland, and best of all, cook all of our meals for two weeks!
There was even a nice gas BBQ grill, so we took advantage of the excellent locally sourced meats and summer produce, and tried to replenish our diets from the challenges of constant eating out.
We really wanted to minimize train transfers, so I planned two nice days of touring from Mt. temple by heading southeast towards the charming village of Birr and then onto a train connection that would take us directly on to the City of Cork.
It can be challenging to make an afternoon connection when touring, as the further you are cycling, the harder it is to time the arrival. Wind, hills, dirt, cobbles, or dogs can all slow your progress. So we generally allow plenty of time, especially when you have one of the few bike reservation spaces and the next train is in 3 hours!
We arrived in Cork in early evening and found Ireland’s second city to be a bit of a work in progress with respect to bike infrastructure. The city is a working port city and downtown doesn’t overwhelm with charm, but the lively restaurant and pub scenes compensate, as well as some interesting hilly nooks and valleys to explore on the north bank of the River Lee. But it’s a good jumping off point for exploring the Southwest of Ireland and we couldn’t wait to set out the next morning in the cool coastal air.
We took a longer scenic way to Kinsale, to take in two nice sections of rail-trail/greenway along the sinuous coast that opens up towards the Celtic Sea from Cork Harbor. Cruising along the salty coast separated from traffic on flat paths was a joy. However, we then turned to the SW, where headwinds and hills started to make their mark and let us know that traversing County Cork by loaded bike would be hard work, but also reward with sublime views and lush valleys.
Since the prevailing winds are from the Southwest, we knew that we likely had two days of head wind ahead of us. And we did, but you are often buffered by vegetation along the small roads, so the winds are often mitigated (or unnoticeable when headed up a 10% grade!)
Kinsale is a picturesque town set at the head of a beautiful harbor, so we decided to take an extra day there and relax as it was our 25th Wedding Anniversary. And to be honest, there really aren’t any places that I would have rather been than cycle touring with my amazing wife across the friendly and stunning landscape of Southwest Ireland.
This is what we worked towards for many years, it does feel wonderful every day to realize that we are living our dream. And doing it while we still have some oomph in our legs. In the future, we won’t be shy about employing e-bikes to extend our years of cycle touring. It’s just such an amazing way to see the countryside and experience a place.
But like everything, cycle touring and Ireland has its ups, and downs. One of the downs for us has been cycling into a bit of car and truck mayhem in most Irish cities and villages, especially as traffic really peaks here in the mid afternoon.
Logically for original settlement needs, villages are almost always on a river or at the head of an inlet or protected harbor. Add hilly glacial geography to the mix, and you have every road generally meeting in one spot…across one bridge….just where the village and sights are as well. Kinsale especially suffers from this.
It’s also true that 90% of the lodging is along main roads as this is where the commercial development has been, so a number of B&Bs and hotels we’ve stayed at have been impacted by traffic noise. A fact of life, but especially disappointing to deal with when you are traveling only by bike and train.
We could opt for more country lodging, but then dinner is often an issue, since cycling miles into a town in the evening is not really fun (or safe feeling) after being out on the bikes all day. Not to mention we like to stroll about the towns and explore a bit each evening.
Of course, this phenomenon is not unique to Ireland, but it’s especially noticeable on bikes, and since there is generally not too much traffic elsewhere. But luckily, there just aren’t a lot of people in Ireland (6M), so the scale of the issues are small and manageable. This has been the biggest surprise in Ireland…despite a deep history, it’s modern, educated, and forward looking, and still living in a bit of a golden age of prosperity and development.
So after a relaxing few days in Kinsale, we happily set out on our bikes and meandered north to Bantry, Glengariff, and finally over Healy pass to Killarney National Park. The weather was lovely and the views constantly stimulating, so the miles just click by, even when heading up the many long and steep hills.
Plus, we always looked forward to finding a new pub each night to enjoy a fresh pint in a friendly atmosphere. Ireland really is a nice place to tour, and we’re going to miss it when we get back on the ferry to the UK next week. Happy September and happy travels!
When traveling long term, you strangely become both more tolerant of discomfort (especially when out of your control), and obsessed with small comforts. And sometime the smallest things can give you a feeling of satisfaction in an often disorienting lifestyle.
For example, our little down travel pillows always provide a modicum of comfort, even over the hardest “pillow” found in some lodging. Carrying our own salt, pepper, picnicware, and hot sauce brightens otherwise dull meals or take out on the road.
Another way to ease the stress of constant travel is to return to a place…maybe a few times. It’s always easier once you know the lay of the land, favorite neighborhoods, and how to get out of the train station in the right direction. In the past year we’ve been lucky enough to visit London and Paris multiple times, in completely different neighborhoods. Plus, you can venture deeper into new places, see obscure sights, and generally settle in with the more relaxed lens of a quasi-local.
As we left the Netherlands for the UK, the warnings of an impending heat wave across Northern Europe were growing, so we thought about where we could ride it out as we approached the next leg across of our planned 4 month summer European cycling, train, and boat tour.
Our primary goals in the UK were to see our friends in Wales, and connect to a ferry to Ireland, so we did not plan on too much cycling. The heat wave clinched the decision to settle in somewhere for a longer stay. So we looked back on places that we could (somewhat) easily get to with our bikes on trains…our train from the ferry landing in Harwich went to London, but London would be too hot(100+) and is $$$ in August, plus we wanted to get further west where it would be a bit cooler, and closer to a house sit we had scheduled in Gloucester.
So we decided on Bristol for a third visit, via a single train transfer in London. The only catch was one train came into Liverpool Station and the other departed from Paddington. But no problem on bikes, as the 10km ride across London on a Saturday morning was a pleasure due to all the new cycling infrastructure. London’s wide new paths, protected lanes and bike signals have made cycling a much more viable alternative in the Capital.
Bristol was also a good base for some day cycling trips and we could go back to our favorite falafel stand, noodle restaurant, and cat pub!
And yes, we could go back to the S.S. Brittanica and Brunel Museum…and for free! Ha, even the staff was impressed (and a bit surprised) when Cheryl pulled out our printed tickets from last year, which they sell at the relatively high price of £20 each, with the caveat that the tickets are good for a year.
Of course, most non-locals never make it back within the year…but these frugal Americans did! (Thanks to Cheryl -:) We enjoyed seeing more of the museum that we missed on the first visit due to school groups and also took another walk through the ship. This was a small satisfaction for these frequent travelers!
We spent one warm night in the top floor of a old school hotel in leafy Clifton (nicely near the Suspension bridge), but then strategically moved to an air conditioned room downtown for the peak days of the heat wave.
It WAS hot and the Hilton Garden Inn’s British AC system could barely keep up, especially when the sun bore down on our windows in the afternoon. Luckily we like this hotel due to its adjacency to a small park with nice mature trees that cooled it down a bit.
This heat wave set all-time records throughout the UK…43c/104f in a land not adapted in culture, architecture, or A/C systems to such heat. Southern England is now experiencing a drought along with about 50% of the rest of Western Europe. The adaptation to the climate change that seems to be happening is going to be difficult, expensive, and disruptive to life as we know it….and of course, we are the lucky ones that can afford to move and adapt, while other poorer and more impacted nations suffer unduly for greenhouse gases they contribute little to generating.
But let’s move on to happier topics, like house bunnies. We had a nice 70km cycle from Bristol to Stroud, a pleasant historic canal town on the edge of the Cotswolds. It was a little hectic getting out of Bristol as the cycle infrastructure is spotty and confusing to the first time user.
But the ride was generally pleasant, and Stroud made a good overnight stop, with the convenince of pub lodging….drinks, dinner, sleep, breakfast…check. We then rode back to the Gloucester Canal via the Stroud water, where we house sat for a nice young couple for the weekend, with primary duties looking after their two bunnies. The bunnies were super cute and lots of fun. Who knew rabbits had such personalities!? And Gloucester has an interesting revitalized docklands area and a spectacular cathedral.
So one of the surprises of our first cycle touring days in the UK was the fact that it wasn’t that bad! After spending the better part of last winter in the UK, we had not deemed the roads, drivers, or train system too hospitable to bikes and basically decided that we’d use our precious cycling time elsewhere where the cycling seems safer and offered more freedom to discover. However, a critical law enacted in February mandates passing clearances of 1.5-2m for cars, as well as improved cyclist and pedestrian rights at intersections and crossings. Way to go UK!
There is a also nascent national cycling network (with gaps), as well as local tourism loops and other marked routes in many cities and towns. But it’s hard to find online cycling maps and data, despite downloading and paying for the Ordiance Survey (OS Maps) App at the premium level. We had to piece together routing from Komoot, Google, and some of the National and local signage to find a good route. It should be easier.
And many of the A or B roads are still absolutely no go in my view. For example we crossed a few primary roads (A roads) that Google had routed us on, and spent a km or two on some, but quickly bailed or found an alternate route as they were just too high speed with no shoulders. Some have bike lanes that disappear or are just way too narrow for traffic speeds.
As we alway say, England is a pretty crowded place and car use has run rampant since the 1970s, without the concurrent development of connective cycling infrastructure. It’s a similar pattern to the USA; the cities have led the way, while the suburban and rural areas have been neglected or fallen through the planning/funding cracks. In the UK, the physical challenges of the narrow roads are also harder to overcome, whereas in the US it is often more a lack of political will.
On the quieter backroads though, the cycling can be very rewarding as the small scale and undulations of the historic road system is perfect for cycle touring. And millions of British cycle frequently and we saw many out there….but they are mostly in high vis vests and it feels like a bit of a road warrior mentality that is not going to get the other 98% of the population out on bikes.
The other huge positive was that almost all the drivers are respecting the new laws, so this did make it feel safer and more pleasant on many roads. However, heading up a steep narrow road with 5 cars stuck behind you waiting to pass safely is still not exactly the relaxing experience of a 5m wide Dutch cycleway. So we decided that we will try out a bit more of the National cycling network next time through the UK in September.
So we headed out of Gloucester by train to Carmarthen, Wales, where our kind friends picked us up in their van for the final leg to Tenby. It was great (as always) to see our friends and we still are so thankful for their kindness in providing us some grounding for our European travels. Cheryl has known them for almost 40 years, and we feel especially close as generations age and kids turn into young adults. But somehow, we stay the same age, right?
The swimming in Tenby was particularly pleasant in August and we enjoyed recuperating a bit before moving onto our next adventure; cycling and exploring Ireland, so we packed up our bikes and gear and our kind hosts shuttled us again to the Stena Line ferry in Fishguard, Wales for the 4 hour trip to Ireland. I’ve heard the Irish are pretty friendly too, but more on that next time.
So it’s hard to beat Sweden in summer for cycle touring, but despite our somewhat haphazard rambles, we had one date on the calendar for more than a year; the July 1st opening stage of the Tour de France in Copenhagen. Le Grand Départ!
But wait, isn’t the Tour de France in France? Yes, the majority is in France; however, more recently, they start in a nearby country for the first 3 stages (of 21) to help share in the experience and spread the Tour love across borders.
In recent years, the tour has started in Belgium, Spain, Italy, Netherlands and the UK. But this was the first time it had visited cycle-crazy Denmark.
And since we had been moving a lot in the previous month of cycle touring (a few 2 night stops but mostly single touring nights), we decided to head to Copenhagen early and get an apartment for a week in advance of our long-standing 2-night hotel reservation just a 100 meters from the course.
So we crossed from Helsingborg, Sweden to Helsingør, Denmark by ferry across the Kattegat Strait. This short 20 minute crossing was the primary crossing point until the completion of the Oresund bridge/tunnel in 2000, so has robust infrastructure on both sides of the crossings and multiple automated dock structures to load and unload trucks, cars, passengers and the occasional bikes. Very cool.
It’s still busy, and the Swedish side has a shiny new intermodal station, with great connections for rail, bus, and ferry passengers. As with most European vehicle ferries, bikes load with the cars and trucks, so we made our way around the maze of approach lanes and signs to find our way to a toll booth station where you ride up to window and buy your tickets for the next ferry out.
As always, it’s a bit of a rush to ride on and off in between big rigs and loading cars, and in this case, no stopping for any immigration as this is an internal EU crossing.
We highly recommend taking ferries where you can if bike touring, even if there is another option, as you get the continuous experience of the landscape, get to see some of the seascape, meet other cycle tourists, and can tune into the subtleties of the cultural infrastructure differences in every country. And yes, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands all are unique cycling experiences. More on that later.
Our friend Jason met us about half way along the way on the 50km ride into Copenhagen, and it was great to have an escort and some engaging conversation with a familiar face. Jason is a professor from San Francisco, and was spending the month in Copenhagen, continuing his field studies and collaboration on the politics and implementation of transport policies in Copenhagen and San Francisco.
Jason has literally written a book on the topic, and has great insight on how Copenhagen has become one of the worlds leading bicycle cities; however, noting the challenges facing a lax continued investment in car free space and the troubling growth of auto mobility throughout Denmark.
His insights would align with some of our experiences in Copenhagen and beyond as we toured across Denmark. The country has fantastic cycling infrastructure, but we did find traffic a bit heavy and passing often surprisingly a bit close compared to Sweden and Germany. And some interior towns and cities had very few bikes and large drive through bakeries?!
Our apartment was in Norrebrø, a trendy and leafy neighborhood just outside the more touristed core of Copenhagen. The neighborhood is great, so we took a chance on an Airbnb with only a few sparse reviews. It was fine, but had a few issues.
First, although it looked out over the beautiful trees of the adjacent cemetery/park, it was fronted by a fairly busy two-lane road. And since we were there during a rare heat wave, we were faced with the choice of open windows for ventilation or traffic noise. Secondly, we discovered that under the bed was full of clutter with years of thick dust. Cheryl, being the amazing travel companion she is, spent the better part of an hour cleaning under the bed to spare me from the misery of my dust allergies for a week.
We don’t use Airbnb very often, but this apartment highlighted some of the challenges of the platform. It had a few sparse 5 star reviews that we feel in retrospect were probably left by friends, and the lack of a specific location when choosing a rental is unprecedented in the lodging industry….and very annoying to me. You should know what you are buying when spending $1000++ for a weekly apartment.
Our week in Copenhagen was great, but let’s just say, there is now one very detailed review of this apartment, letting prospective guests know exactly the trade offs of what they are getting. I wrote the review that I wish I had read before renting. And to be clear, the apartment was a fine base , but we are particularly sensitive to traffic noise after spending months on the peaceful saddles of our bikes, so would not have chosen the place if fully informed.
Copenhagen was in full embrace of the Grand Depart, and the run up to the opening stage was a blast. Tour signs, decorations, stages, and buzz everywhere. Watching the time trial was fantastic as riders came by every minute, so there was hours of fun with the spirited Danish everywhere along the course. Seriously, every meter of the time trial course had at least a few people at the rails, and 10 or more thick at the popular spots. And yes, it helps to be 6’-5” to have a clear view almost anywhere.
The other interesting aspect of visiting at the end of June was the Midsommer celebrations and the somewhat bizarre 2-week tradition of “studenterkørsel”. This consists of students who are graduating from “gymnasiet” schools (upper secondary school) hiring old military/farm trucks to drive around and pick up other grads, visit each family, and generally rolling around Copenhagen (or anywhere in Denmark) blasting music, drinking, and dancing into the wee hours.
You can hear them coming blocks away and it’s all very charming at first, but after the third day or fourth day, the charm starts to wear a bit thin. Oh, and did I mention they all wear little sailor hats, unique to each school. This is just one of the quirky and unique traditions in the Scandinavian countries, as they express incredible individuality despite their low populations. (Denmark is smaller than the SF Bay Area!)
After riding the time trial course with 50,000 other crazed cyclists the morning after the first stage, we headed off to Copenhagen central for our intercity train to Nyborg, with the goal of catching the finish of Stage 2.
Despite a slightly frightening overcrowded situation with our loaded bikes on the woefully inadequate train platforms of the main station, we managed to beat the peleoton across the Great Belt Bridge to Nyborg. It was one of the busiest travel days of the year combining a summer Saturday, the TdF, and the massive Rosskilde music festival! Whoaa, we were missing our more usual shoulder season travel times.
The Danish train system is ok, but is not as extensive or user friendly for tourists or bicycles as other Northern European countries. You have to reserve bike space on intercity (IC or ICL) trains and they are all high boarding trains, so it’s necessary to hoist your bikes up after scrambling to load your bags. Some of the less common regional trains are first-come first served for bike space, as well as the S-trains around Copenhagen. Secondly, the DSB App and website will not accept US credit cards, and has only one bespoke mobile payment system, which you can only sign up for with a Danish phone number!
So we had to go CPH central and wait in the queue to buy our paper tickets and paid 3x as much as the discounted tickets still available on the App the day before….There are a lot of somewhat protectionist schemes in the Scandinavian countries, such as most shops in the Netherlands not taking visa and Mastercard, only “Maestro”. But I get that you want to keep the money and jobs local, and not pay Visa or Mastercard 2% of every transaction in your country with no benefit of employment or trickle down from the company profits.
I should note that once you are on the trains, the staff and seating is all very comfortable.
It was cool to take the train across the 18km Great Belt Bridge in advance of the peloton as you got an appreciation what they were going though. The bridge was closed for the Tour crossing, but you unfortunately can’t cycle across the bridge. (or maybe fortunately given the ever present winds.).
Once at Nyborg station, we scoped out a good spot about 1.5 km from the finish line and enjoyed the local crowd, some of whom had been there all day (and perhaps drinking!?) Since we were on fully loaded on our bikes, there was no chance of fighting the thousands who had jockeyed into the finishing sprint stretch. And although they went by fast, there were a lot of stragglers due to a crash that split up the peloton about 2km from our viewing spot.
After the stage ended, we rode to the accommodation we had booked about 25km north of Nyborg as the town itself was booked solid. It all worked out great, as we were able to escape the race area quickly, hit a supermarket, and have a lovely early evening ride to our modest row holiday apartment.
The next few days we had some great cycling across Funen, a vast island in the center of Denmark that is linked to Sjæland by the Great Belt and then onto Jutland by the Little Belt Bridge. It’s a nice rolling area of forest and farmland and really fun riding, especially when you get a bit lucky with the winds, which magically turned from the east to the west as we turned in the same direction! Nice.
We had a great visit connecting with some of my step family on the lovely coast for a few days, which gave us more opportunity to ask questions about the idiosyncrasies of life in Denmark. But as much as we would have loved to linger a bit longer enjoying the Danish summer scene, we had another deadline of getting to the Hoek of Holland to catch a night ferry to the UK on the 15th. So we spent the next few days riding south towards the German border and then made our way across to northern Holland by a few strategic train hops.
It was a bit hectic as the trains and station transfers in were a bit crazy, and one of our well planned regional trains from Flensburg to Hamburg stopped midway and let everyone off in the middle of nowhere due to a sudden line closure. So instead of waiting for buses that might take hours to get there and pick up the hundreds of stranded passengers, we loaded up our bikes and headed to the next station, hoping to bypass the issue.
Well, that still didn’t work as the next 3 stations were closed, so we came up with a Plan B, head 40km East to Kiel, a former Hanseatic League city and enjoy a night there, as we had heard the line to Hamburg would reopen the next day.
Although sometimes traveling with bikes on trains is (very) stressful, it also gives you a unique freedom to pivot when an issue arises! This flexibility helped us again as the line from Hamburg to Groningen, Netherlands has been closed for years near the border, due to a failed rail bridge. But we were able to bridge gap easily by riding from the last Deutsche Bahn station in Germany to the first town on the Dutch rail system 20 km away!
So we breathed a big sigh of relief as our local and mellow Dutch train rolled towards the famous cycling city of Groningen. We decided to spend two nights there to enjoy it sufficiently, but then realized as we headed out two days later that we left ourselves a bit of cycling challenge to make our ferry to the UK on time, especially with the “hills of the Netherlands” (aka wind!)….more on our next leg soon.
We’ve covered some ground since leaving Selçuk and have thoroughly enjoyed soaking up the culture, oceans, and food along the stunning Aegean and Mediterranean coasts of Southwest Turkey.
The uncertainties of transport, food , and some customs has been more than offset by the friendly and helpful locals. And we’ve stuck to our slow travel ways and navigated by minibus, ferries, and the comfy longer distance coaches that connect all Turkish cities.
One thing we’ve discovered in our travels are the different experiences that you have in a tourist destination that is popular mostly with local versus foreign tourists. Places that are predominately filled with foreign tourists obviously feel less authentic, but also can comfort you with more familiar foods and languages.
But in the extreme, the experience can be virtually cut off from local customs and people, instead replaced with recreated versions of travelers home cultures. (Full English Breakfasts, Schnitzels, and Guinness anyone?). On the other hand, you have a much better chance of meeting other travelers to share a drink, meal, or good chat with. When you’re on long term travels, this can be a nice respite:
In cities, you can get out of the tourist zones by just heading to other neighborhoods. In San Francisco, this would mean heading out of the Wharf and Union Square to the Mission, NOPA, or Inner Sunset.
However, in smaller places, there is often little escape. Some of the coastal areas of Western Turkey are heavily impacted by foreign tourists seeking sun and swim holidays, with the priorities to relax, and eat and drink comfortably. I get it, as sometimes that’s all we want to do too.
That said, we generally cherish the smaller cities and towns that are off the tourist track completely or more locally touristed. But if you don’t speak the language, getting way off the tourist track takes an adventurous spirit, and can be tiring in the long run. A happy medium is to visit places that are full of local tourists, such as Datça. More on Datça shortly.
We spent 6 days at the end of Ramadan and the Eid Al Fitr holiday in a great apartment in Bodrum. Transport during this big Holiday can be difficult, so we decided to ride out the celebratory heart of it with the local masses who flee Istanbul and other inland areas to head to the coast.
Bodrum does have some foreign tourists too, but the Turkish tourists dominate, so we did feel like foreigners who dropped onto Cape Cod for July 4th weekend. Bodrum has two big bays separated by a rocky peninsula topped by an ancient castle and a fantastic underwater archeology museum.
The West Bay is a glitzy promenade lined with cafes, restaurants, and dozens (hundreds?) of large, bulky boats called “gulets”, which are made locally in Turkish boatyards. The East Bay has a more chill beach vibe, and a good public beach at the far end, where we swam at least once a day.
As we also discovered on a hike in the surrounding hills, there is a ferry dock with daily boats south to Datça… I looked up the intriguing geographic position of Datça and we had found our next move, especially as we could walk to the ferry.
Datça is near the end of an amazing peninsula that juts out into Aegean and is surrounded by dramatic hills, ocean coves, small villages, as well as signature nut tree and olive orchards. We spent the very end of the Eid Al Fitr week holiday period in Datça, and loved sharing the holiday spirit and great restaurants in the downtown area.
The locals were very friendly, and we did not hear another English voice for 3 days. It’s also very light on car traffic and just has a great cozy feel on the small grid of downtown streets, many car free. As we liked to say when we are in such places, we’re experiencing someone else’s holiday, and it feels that Datça is still a little bit off the radar.
We headed out of Datça by minibus (via Marmaris) down the coast to Fethiye, a beautiful small coastal city, surrounded by steep hills and (still!) snow capped mountains from every vantage. Lots of ancient Lycian ruins in the area, not to mention beaches and turquoise tinged waters. It’s got a big broad waterfront connected by a lovely 5km promenade, but definitely not as cozy as Datça.
Sadly, we realized that our days in Turkey were actually running out, so choose to head directly to Antayla via an inland coach bus (4 hrs) versus continuing along the Mediterranean which would involve 10 hours of sinuous mini bus hops, and leave little time left for other experiences. A friend had told us we could easily spend two months in Turkey and he was spot on, and we definitely plan to return sometime.
Antalya is a large coastal city with a nice old town perched above cliffs of an ancient Roman harbor. We enjoyed a few days there, but wanted to head inland to explore a few more less visited spots, so choose to break up a 7-hour bus trip to Konya with a two night stop at Lake Egidir.
It’s a huge inland lake, but fairly shallow, and like many areas in Anatolia, a history formed by the Greek exedous/partition following the Greco-Turkish war in 1923. (Officially it was called a “population exchange ”) Somehow it all now feels a bit spooky, and it all has an air of being neither here or there. But since there are only a few places catering to foreign travelers in town, we did find a vibrant scene at our Pension; reminiscent of Pre-COVID times!
We are now in Konya, a more conservative large city, where a smaller number of of “western” tourists visit, as it is a major pilgrimage center for Muslims.
We wanted to spend some time in somewhere quite different than many of the more liberal coastal areas we’ve been enjoying. So we’re spending two nights here in advance of a 13-hour night train back to Izmir. There a few long distance night trains in Turkey, but make sure you book a week or more in advance to get one of the limited 2-person sleepers, especially as they are very reasonably priced ($30 for 2). We’ll let you know how it goes, but as Cheryl knows, I really love night trains -:)
As much as we are still enjoying new experiences in Turkey, we are both getting excited about getting back on the bikes next week and more long distance bike rambles in Northern Europe. We want to cycle the Baltic coast Eurovelo route, but with issues in the region now, it adds some logistical challenges getting past Kaliningrad, as well as questions of the appropriateness of traveling through Poland and other areas dealing with the stresses of refuges and possible energy shortages.
As we enter our second week in Turkey, we have finally adjusted to the time zone, food, and some of the customs of Turkish life; even the complex and nuanced lives of the ubiquitous street cats.
Meanwhile the world changes faster everyday. Just as it seems we were looking the worst of the pandemic in the rear view mirror, here comes Putin’s invasion! And now a geopolitical, migration and energy crisis is gripping Europe and rippling through the world. The future is always uncertain, but it feels especially daunting heading into the summer of 2022.
The truth about extended travels is that it is hard sometimes, a fact that travel bloggers and instagramers don’t always highlight between the pretty pictures. For us, returning to the US for a month was a mixed blessing. It was so nice to see friends and family, but at the same time, it brought a bit of angst, especially to me, as I have to fight my strong urge to settle down again. I believe nesting is a basic human instinct, especially as you age…. Luckily, Cheryl is more happy go lucky and able to take the long view better than me, which is one of the reasons our life together works so well -:)
San Francisco was at its finest in April, and after our travels, the fruits of vast prosperity, including high quality food, water, parks, and services really stood out in my mind. Not to mention the spectacular scenery, good weather, and tolerant attitudes. It really is hard to beat. But the very purpose of our extended travels is to break us out of our comfort zone, so we pressed on to Istanbul for the next leg of our adventure. San Francisco, we always miss you:
We have flown coach the past two transatlantic legs (via TAP), but we managed to use miles for two non-stop business class tickets on Turkish Airways for the 13 hour SFO to Istanbul journey; a worthy investment for the comfort of this 6’-5” carcass. It’s also nice to fly the flagship carrier of any country you are visiting as a bit of the cultural experience can start earlier (even if that culture includes talking loudly while everyone else is trying to sleep-;).
The service and comfort on the flight was great; but regardless, the 10 hour time shift was pretty harsh! We had forgotten the luxury of the previous 7 months of travel in just a few European time zones, and never trotting around a busy foreign city half zombie like…most of you know the feeling.
Luckily, a friend and infrastructure colleague in the Bay Area connected us with a local American who has taught and is an administrator at Bachesir Univeristy (BAU) for over 20 years, and is married locally with a child. He gave us a fantastic tour of some of the less touristed neighborhoods, including his home in Kadiköy, a more livable and somewhat hipster neighborhood on the Asian side of the Bosporus. There is no better way to stay awake then to have an energetic local share his local knowledge and insight over 5 miles up and down the hills. Thanks Sean!
We also landed in Istanbul at the height of Ramadan, which meant locals were out by the thousands (tens of thousands) visiting the city’s beautiful sights and passing the daily fast with family and feasts after sunset. Major holidays are always a mixed blessing when traveling. They can mean that lodging and (especially) transport can be at its limits, but you also get the joy and insight of seeing unique traditions unfold.
We stayed in the heart of tourist Istanbul of Sultanahmet. Although convenient to the big sites, touts and overpriced restaurants abounded, and it often felt like we were not getting the Istanbul experience we craved. However, it also turned out to be a major destination for local tourists to see the tulips in Gulane Park, or, for the more devout to visit The Hagia Sofia or Blue Mosque.
Our hotel also suffered from online ratings bloat, as was ranked near #1 on most booking sites. Just as a “top pick” rating in Lonely Planet used to inflate prices, the hotel did not suit our independent travelers nature. Some people love being doted on night and day, with freebies and gifts, but as long term travelers, we definitely stray towards independence and found it all a bit tedious. And poor Cheryl had to listen to my jet-lagged rants on all the poor design elements and annoyances of the hotel!
If you are staying more than a day or two in Istanbul, then I recommend staying across the Golden Horn in Karaköy or Beşiktaş, or even on the Asian side as the Marmaray raíl can get you to the key sites in 10-15 minutes (or scenic ferries). This is where we will stay when we go back, and I think we will go back. So much still to see.
Istanbul is truly unique, and a teeming blend of cultures set on an ancient backdrop. The city is fast paced and hectic, but we enjoyed just diving into the stream of humanity and going with the flow.
The public transit is also pretty good, but was very crowded, especially the very useful T1 tram line. Make sure to buy an Istanbul transit card at a major metro or Marmaray rail terminal first and charge it with 50 or 100 Lira. Recharging is easier than buying a card.
We had to ask for help using the quirky machines that sell the plastic cards and often seem to be out of service. But there are always genuinely helpful people all around in Turkey. Just ask. Even if they speak no English, they will still go out of their way to try to help. By the way, you can use one card for multiple people, by tagging them through the turnstiles first. There are turnstiles for the trams as well, as they used a platform pay zone system. Amazingly, we saw no fare dodging anywhere, even when it would be easy at low boarding tram stops.
The trams are also nice new Bombardier built rolling stock, and everything is clean and safe, as is most of the City. The new Marmaray Rail system is an extensive system that runs deep under the Bosporus, and is a crucial link for the mega region of 22 million. The new airport lacks rail service and is way out there, so we took a taxi for about $20 and an hour ride, although there are bus options. Apparently rail is planned, although given Turkey’s financial crisis, it may be an unlikely priority give the distance and cost.
So after 5 nights in Istanbul, we had to figure out our next move: East towards Ankara and Cappadocia, or down the Aegean coat. As often happens in just in time travels, the transport situation pushed us towards a decision.
Turkey has been building a backbone high speed rail network, and it is quite successful, but unfortunately so reasonably priced ($3.50 for 4 1/2 hour trip!) and in demand, that all the trains to Ankara and the east were booked out for 2-3 weeks! Doh!
We thought about flying to Cappadocia, but didn’t want to burn the carbon for our convenience, nor face another hour plus trip back out to the airport in traffic. However, a fast ferry to Bandirma and convenient train connection to Izmir still had tickets. So the lesscarmorelife choice was clear. The slow way to Izmir!
Izmir is a cosmopolitan city on the Aegean that is the heart of liberal and secular Turkey. We really enjoyed our three days there, and did what we love to do in cities…walked though neighborhoods, wandering and exploring, all served by great tram and ferry links.
And again our next move was influenced by transport during the end of Ramadan, and a bit of fate pushing back. Our hotel was walking distance to and from the Basmane train station, and trains continued south, so this was the logical choice; however, we did consider the holiday crowds and thought that renting a car in (as was recommended by many) Izmir could make sense, especially as our flight out of Turkey is from Izmir in 3 weeks.
Luckily, the Budget site in Europe would not take our credit cards on booking. (also a problem on the Turkish rail site, so we have had to book at stations). So no car for now and we were off to Selçuk by train for a few days.
One of our mantras is that we see what we see, and don’t fret about what we don’t see. You may see more renting a car or flying, but will you experience more?
And Selçuk was a lovely big town of about 30 thousand, where we stayed in a very homey and neighborhood located guest house. Selçuk is one of the gateways to Esephus, but as most people visit by cruise ship shore excursion from Kundasi, Selçuk is more of a travelers town, with a very local and relaxed vibe. More on our visit to follow in the next post.
So we are now in Bodrum, a big coastal city that heaves with summer visitors and is quite busy during the Ramadan holiday, but most locals think the weather and water is a bit too cool to swim yet, the beaches are just nicely populated. Sweet. We have a comfortable apartment for 5 days, and are mixing swimming and sightseeing with laundry, sewing, cooking, and blogging -:)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We will settle down again some day, and when we do, will invite everyone we have met to join us…but not quite yet.
As we revel in the beautiful scenes that are Paris and London at Christmas, we can’t help be struck by the stark differences in culture, religion, and economic trajectory with Morocco. And as always, we have a renewed appreciation for the happy accident of where we were born and raised.
Strangely, the contrast of travel trips synapses in your brain that heightens the experience on both sides of the divide. Our 25 days in Morocco were a sensory overload at times, but a bustling neighborhood in Paris in the run up to Christmas now feels equally disorienting. There is something to be said for fresh eyes to appreciate your culture.
The Moroccans we met were almost all kind, generous, and friendly, but the culture is very different. Returning to Paris at Chrismas time was a bit like a bucket of cold water being poured over our heads (challenge !?) Morocco is shaped at its core by the religious norms of Islam, leadership by a constitutional monarch, and a history as regional and nomadic traders. These are not things we have a great context for understanding.
But as advocates for car-lite living, Morocco offers an amazing glimpse into urban and village life with little motorized support. The Medinas, Kasbah, and Souks of each place we visited had a distinct personality. Some were lightly touched by tourism (such as Tétouan and Meknès), while others, such as Chechaouen had been reimagined in new colors seemingly just to make perfect Instagram photos.
The larger Medinas, such as Fès and Marrakech are more a hybrid; with tourist influences concentrated to one district (like Jenaa El Fnaa or Bab Boujeloud)
I think Fès, with its size, extremely narrow alleys, constant dead ends, and some significant slopes and stairs was probably my favorite to observe and explore the real heartbeat of modern medina life.
But regardless of the number of tourists in the various medinas, they are all living communities with thousands of residents and thousands more who come to shop, sell, eat, or stroll. The infrastructure often looks precarious and hand methods are frequently the primary construction tool, with small scooter-trucks, hand pushed cart, or donkeys with saddle bags. Nothing is easy, but in land where labor is pretty cheap, and higher end construction materials dear, this is the continued ways in most of the medinas of Morocco.
As someone noted in their review of the Riad where we stayed in Fes., “you walk out the door to the Middle Ages” ok, that might be a little of an exaggeration, as cell phones, some refrigeration, and slightly more modern water and sanitation co-exist: And some parts of some Medinas are downright charming and bougie, with boutique hotels, riads, restaurants, and galleries. The vast and complex medinas have their various neighborhood character, just like any city.
What makes the medinas so unique now on the planet (and almost all are UNESCO world heritage sites) is that they survived the ravages of 20th century redevelopment. Just outside many Medina walls is the Ville Nouveu, and these vary in charm and layout.
The rest of Morrocon urban and suburban architecture is focused inward, and therefore does not provide a rich or pleasant streetscape to the more western eye. Even some middle class neighborhoods look downright barren from the outside, as the scale of three story buildings is not in context with often very wide streets. This inward focus is a challenge to a traveler in Morocco, as you generally are on the outside of family life and local culture.
But less so in the medinas, where you can experience the typical Riad and often gaze down from rooftops and terraces at the Medina life around you.
One of our traveller friends stayed in a room with a family in Morocco for a few days, and that sounded like a great way to get even more insight into “true” Moroccon life. We had some great experiences and especially insightful conversations with Riad and restaurant hosts about the tourism challenges with Omicron our last week as the “only tourists in Morocco”.
We had an exciting journey in Morocco that ended a bit strangely, but we take away the kindness and some of the spirit of so many we met. As with any developing economy, you wish them luck and the good leadership to truly elevate peoples lives. And maybe a bit more help from their American friends.
After 3 weeks working flat out getting our condo ready to show and sell we’re now waiting. Most of our stuff is in the storage unit, the condo is as clean and tidy and minimalist as it can be, and we wait for someone to fall in love and buy it.
The upside is that we can go back to doing what we love to do in this city, walking, eating, and seeing friends. Our walk along the Batteries to Bluff trail was enhanced with flocks of California brown pelicans flying by above, below, and at eye level. They are migrating from the breeding grounds on the Channel Islands to British Columbia, apparently, even those these pelicans seem to be going south, or south west.
California brown pelicans were listed as endangered by the federal government in 1970, but their rebound has been robust and they were removed from the list in 2009. It’s very impressive to see so many flying along the SF coast. I remember as a child in SoCal in the 70s when these big birds were a remarkable and fairly rare sighting.
This is the month locals call Fogust, and SF lived up to its name this year with cool grey days that make us the coldest place in the US, but we got a sunny day for our coast walk.
And now, back to waiting and hoping our condo will sell quickly and our flights to Europe will not be canceled.