Morocco, four nights in.

The vista from a Medina rooftop in Tetouan.

Our first stop in Morocco was Tangier for two nights. Our friend Dan (Hi Dan!) provided great advice – don’t book your first night in the Medina – so hard to find and if you arrive from the airport via taxi they can’t drop you at the door of your place. Finding your way to a location in the Medina can be hard/impossible/frustrating/overwhelming.

On the edge of the Medina in Tangier. The 15th century Portuguese fort wall looking nice in the sunset. This was the view the from our guesthouse terrace.

Moroccan people are super friendly and feel a particular bond with Americans, the diplomatic history goes back to the 1786 Moroccan–American Treaty of Friendship.

Tombeaux Phéniciens, Tangier. On a bright, windy Sunday.
One day in and I already felt that I was 10% mint tea. And I was happy about that.
A sweet shop. Where to start?
Upper left corner and work our way along. All delicious.
Oh yes, there are many cats in the Medina.
Lunch time and juice time. Mint citron on the left, orange on the right.

After two nights in Tangier we hopped a bus to Tetouan, about an hour away. We had to take a taxi to the bus station and we were reminded of a valuable travel tip in Muslim countries – Friday is the holy day when the afternoon prayers are a huge draw, emptying the streets of men and therefore taxi drivers. We left a lot of time to get to the bus station via taxi, and with some unsolicited help from a local (small monetary tip, why not, he did help) we got a taxi and made our bus with plenty of time to spare.

Tetouan on a dramatic cloudy day.

Tetouan is not a big tourist town, and the locals, for the most part, seem to take pride in not making a big deal about tourists. You can stroll the ancient Medina with only the occasional accidental tour guide, and get genuinely helpful directions. The best tip we were given was to look for the center stones in the narrow alleys for some guidance: 3 stones is a main street leading to a gate where you can exit the Medina, 2 stones means a lesser street leading to a main street, 1 stone – dead end residential street. I say street, but they are small alleys, no cars here.

Children run free in the Medina streets. Note the 2 stones in the center. Small street which will lead to a main street.

And those accidental tour guides? They sometimes are focused on getting you to a shop, sometimes really just helping. But you do end up seeing some interesting things when you pick up your accidental tour guide. Being firmly polite and friendly works just fine when you’ve had enough and want to leave. It may take a few tries to lose your new friend but they will ultimately say goodbye after you thank them.

Men working a loom. No hard sell from anyone, just a slice of life thanks to our accidental tour guide.
The product for sale.
Guided through the ancient tannery by our ATG.
Tannery cat!
A pharmacy in a lovely old building. Thank you ATG.

Even if you come to Morocco with zero intentions to buy a beautiful Moroccan rug you will end up in a rug shop at some point. We did, thanks to our ATG. Since we have no home right now and all our worldly possessions are in a storage unit we did not succumb to the temptation. But I can understand why people buy rugs here: they are gorgeous. I’m partial to the flat weave rugs, and who knows – a small rug may end up in our luggage.

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Rich and our friendly accidental tour guide. He took us to a great view spot, tried to get us into a closed museum by knocking repeatedly on the door, and we finally said goodbye, happy to have met.

We think we hit a sweet spot here in Morocco when locals are happy to have tourists back, there are not many of us yet, and not yet tired of the problems that tourists can bring. We are happy to be here and the locals seem happy to have us here.

Happy travelers looking forward to more time in Morocco.

West Sussex in Autumn

The edge of an island.

Once again we are so thankful to have friends to visit and stay with. Would we have done this amazing coastal walk without our generous friends having us to stay and spending a day driving to the trailhead at Birling Gap and hiking with us? Probably not, and we’re so glad we got to see this coastline on a sunny day.

To my eyes it looks as if a giant ripped the edge off the land.
When hiking somewhere with amazing geology try to go with two world class geologists. You certainly learn a lot.
And if there is a calm Labrador along, all the better. Lunch break on the way to Cuckmere Haven.
Tide going out. Not far enough to walk back along the beach though. No desire to chance being caught.
The walk back was through woods and fields. Better then getting caught by the tide.
Arundel Castle, beautiful and the site of an audacious heist in May 2021 of Mary Queen of Scots rosary beads, carried to her execution in 1587. Folks arrested, but where is the loot?
Public footpaths for the win!
Waiting for one of the four trains it took us to get to our friends (rerouted due to previous‘incident’. It would have been only two trains if we’d transited through London, but Rich loves a travel challenge.
As I’ve mentioned before, our car free travel in the UK is facilitated by friends willing to pick us up and drop us off at various train stations. We appreciate it so much.
Gazing with adoring eyes. Or, just hoping for breakfast?

Kitty Heaven

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

We found my favorite pub in the entire world. Yes, we’ve been to cat cafes around the world – oh, we’ve seen some things.

Cats gotta box sit.

A cat cafe in Thailand with color matched cats. A resort in Malaysia with dozens of well behaved rescued cats who happily lounged at the pool, in your room, and under the tables at the restaurant. A San Francisco cat cafe where you could adopt the cats. We’ve discussed the absence of cat bars and what you could call one. Suds and Siamese. Pints and Pussies. Ale and Alley Cats.

A pint of milk please.

But here in Bristol we visited The Bag of Nails. Going forward always referred to as Kitty Heaven. Cats for me, beers for him. Kitties on the bar, kitties on your lap, at one point eight cats were visible in this not large pub. Oh, did I not mention that my wonderful travel guy is allergic to cats?

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

Cat cafes tend to be very controlled environments. More so in California due to health regulations. Here at Kitty Heaven the list of amusing but serious rules includes one definitely aimed at me “no squealing.”.

A Siamese scans the room.

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

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

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

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

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

Wales

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking on the coastal path is one of our favorite things to do. Be ready for wind and rain this time of year, and be ready to be blown away by the geology. It helps to have someone drop you off at one spot, and you either hike back to home, or they generously pick you up hours later.

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

So how did we get here and still stick to our car lite car free ethos? Train from London to Swansea – a minus one minute transfer there where most of the train passengers started dashing to the connection to Camarthen- it was held but no one told us all that so it was a bit of a mad scramble. Our wonderful friends picked us up by car in Camarthen. There is a line to Tenby but there was no connection we could make that day.

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

It reminds us that to replace car use, alternatives need to be reliable, affordable, and easy to figure out. The UK has a much better passenger train system than most of the US, but when driving and flying are still cheaper and easier options, or you don’t have someone to help you out with a ride, it can be tricky to rely on trains. We’re slow traveling so we don’t mind lots of train time, but to sacrifice time and more money is a non starter for most. Non peak hours trains are much cheaper, not traveling on a Friday or Sunday – much cheaper. But if you need to travel on peak or are meeting usual office hours, you will pay more and it’s not cheap. For us, not having to rent a car (yet), and having friends who don’t mind picking us up at train stations (yet), and being willing to walk from train stations wearing our rucksacks to hotels 20 or 30 minutes from the station, means we can be as car free as we have managed. Long may we continue this.

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

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

Alsace wine trail during harvest.

The Route Des Vins.

This is the kind of riding Rich loves – rollers up and down, quiet roads with only occasional cars and busy but careful farm vehicles bringing the grapes in.

Through the vineyards on smooth pavement.

This is the kind of riding I love too, through wine county.

A lovely view and a bottle provided by the BnB. Heaven after a long ride up the hill to the BnB.

Harvesting here looks different from what we see in California. In Germany a machine rolls along actually shaking and pulling the bunches of grapes off the vines. Here, a machine rolls along cutting the lower leaves off and leaving the bunches of grapes hanging naked below the vines. Then, we saw teams of locals, mostly women, wearing aprons and wielding clippers, start into the vineyards.

The pre harvest machine.
Rich added for scale in front of the clipper machine.

The towns we rode through for the past two days were each more charming than the last, making for some slow riding as I stopped to take photos and read tourist info plaques. Blienschwiller, Itterschwiller, Mittelbergheim, Barr, Bernardswiller, and Molsheim where we had a wonderful long lunch and sheltered from the rain on day one.

A typical town with German and French influences.

This area was German and then French, making for some mixed up seeming names. One war memorial I stopped to read had Jean Michael Herzog among others, and of course the usual and heartbreaking lists of family names from both wars – a reminder of the sadness and horror that must have felt as if it were stalking families.

Rich waiting patiently as I gush over another charming town.
Marking the very first time we ever outlasted the locals at lunch. We quick Americans are usually fast lunchers, but it was raining and our check in time was 3:30.
Smiling in the rain, the amazing lunch and carafe of wine helped.

The historic Canal de la Bruche was our route out of Strasbourg and reminded us of the many UK narrow boat vlogs we watched during lockdown. Beautiful.

Watching a swan ply the canal.
Someone had helpfully spray painted a 17% on the hill to let me know how steep it was. And yes, those are waterproof socks I’m wearing with my sandals. Chic, no?
Riding out the rain and a rainbow ends in the vineyards. Perfect.
A rest break in Barr with this view.
The only downside to biking a fairly long day is my unwillingness to stop and taste. Vin Nouveau is a new fascination of ours.
Happy cycling couple.
A smaller town, only 7 wineries listed. Rich in the background enjoying our picnic lunch on day two.
Happy Alsace wine drinker. The long day of passing vineyard after vineyard and smelling the pressing going on in each town was finally rewarded at dinner in Colmar. The small green stemmed glasses are traditional.

We’re in Colmar now, here for two nights in this charming town, then on to more adventures. Our plans are changing as we ride and explore. Happy pedaling!

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.

Across a river and back to France.

Lovely canal views.

We stayed two nights in Strasbourg and celebrated being back in France by having Sri Lankan food one night, and Syrian food the second night. One of the things we miss about SF is eating around the world in a single week, so when we’re in a larger city we take advantage and find some different restaurants.

Pink and orange reflected in the canal.
Adorable gargoyle on the famous cathedral.
A common sign turned into a love letter for Strasbourg.

Today we head out on the Eurovelo 5, to the Alsatian wine route. Goal is the Atlantic Ocean (with a train hop in there!) But let me repeat- wine route!

Happy cyclists.

Rain is expected today so the rain gear we’ve been carrying for five weeks may finally get an outing.

Happy pedaling!

The packing challenge begins.

July 3, 2021 If you catch a glimpse of us this week, the slightly panicked looks on our faces is because we’ve decided to sell our flat before we leave to go traveling. And we are just now remembering how much work it is to sell. Lots to get done but we’re up to the challenge.

Colorado

We fly to Europe on August 13th. (Hopefully.) All our stuff, minus that we purge, will be in storage, and when we come back to SF we’ll plan on finding a rental. We love this City but the world is calling and we must go…

Getting ready to travel.

Hiking to the bus, to bus to the hike.

Like many people, the pandemic made us reconsider our lives. Pre-pandemic we were ready to rent out our SF flat and travel, knowing we would have a place in San Francisco to eventually come home to. Now, we have decided to sell our flat and be unemcumbered as we travel. We did this in 2006, so it’s familiar to us. The packing, the purging, the considering every object’s worth and emotional weight.

We spent a month traveling in Colorado with a rental car and camping gear. That helped us realize how much we love traveling lite, and traveling without a car.

Crested Butte, Colorado

So, here we go. House free, car free travel.

Above Half Moon Bay, California.