We came, we saw, we ate.

We weren’t expecting Turkish food to be so varied, and so good. Neither of us have much experience with Turkish food, it’s not something we have a lot of in San Francisco- or at least not that we know of or frequent. We knew it would be good, healthy, and fresh – or so we’d heard, but our expectations were absolutely exceeded. Some of you will love this post loaded with photos of food. Others may roll your eyes and imagine us doing the thing where no one can touch the food until someone properly snaps a cell phone photo. Yes. We did that. A lot.

Our first mezze plate in Istanbul. And our first meal of three at this restaurant, The New Hatay, where we also made new friends- hi Sue and Peter!
Our first documented restaurant cat. It started to feel as if you were never further than 2 meters from a cat in Istanbul, which I was fine with. Feeding the cats with tidbits from your meal was quite usual.

We don’t have photos of every meal, or every restaurant cat (or dog). And I can’t tell you what each dish was, but overall the food was fantastic. Were there awkward moments when we stumbled through a menu with no English translation with the help of Google translate – yes, many! Did we have waiters bring us English language menus that seemed to have no relation to the Turkish menu? Yes. There was some pointing at other table’s food. We muddled through and enjoyed a lot of good meals.

That chef’s special salad in front of me at the Daphne restaurant in Istanbul was a non translated item on the menu. Always a fun choice! It was perfect.

Most of the restaurant dining we did was outside, or by large open windows, but always, always, in the shade. It wasn’t too hot anywhere yet, but I am notoriously sun adverse.

No, that carton of popcorn was not our dinner, the glass of wine and giant beer were followed by hamburgers which I failed to document. This was in the Beşiktaş neighborhood of Istanbul which was noisy and crowded and so much fun.
Oh look! Here we are back at the New Hatay Restaurant for lunch. Why so many visits? It was on a lovely quiet side street, the staff were so friendly and helpful, and the food was good. Pide, which is described as Turkish pizza.

Our one complaint about Turkish dining is the cigarette smokers. Before we pick a table we carefully judge the prevailing wind direction and eyeball the other diners – who’s got cigarette packs on the table, who’s almost done eating and therefore likely to light up? We come from San Francisco which has some of the strictest rules in the world – no smoking at outside tables, no smoking near doors or windows – and it’s lovely to be able to live your life rarely inhaling secondhand smoke. In Turkey you are closer to a smoker than a cat at all times and you will usually be inhaling someone’s smoke. If no one is smoking near you right now, just wait a few minutes. Someone will light up.

Snack break in Izmir on our walk to the shopping mall. Fuse Ice Tea and pastries. In the shade.
Lunch at the mall! That’s Iskender Kebap, döner and tomato sauce on a bed of bread or potatoes. After it comes to your table a lady comes by with a huge pot of clarified butter and pours it on until you say stop.
Kebap in Selçuk.
Cat coveting kebap in Selçuk.
Two fantastic salads, lentil soup, yogurt with dill, cucumber, and garlic oil. Selçuk.
Still in Selçuk, chicken shish kebab for me, I think Rich had beef and mushrooms. The wait was long (we were warned) but the food was delicious.

We rented an apartment in Bodrum and cooked for ourselves for five nights, so no food photos from that town. We also had an apartment in Datça, with minimal cooking facilities though, so we had breakfast and lunch in, and dinner out.

Datça cafeteria style lunch on our first day there. It can be a bit intimidating when you have very little idea of what anything is, but one of the young servers walked us through the line of food. Zucchini fritters and Aubergine casserole, lentil soup, yogurt with dill and garlic oil, rice pilaf and something else yummy. More Fuse Ice Tea.
A small restaurant in Datça that serves only one thing, meatballs, or köfte. Easy ordering, they have one type each day. Two please.
Please please please, says the dog who woke up just as we were served.
One of the most delicious mezze courses. From the right, yogurt with spicy oil, celery heart with strawberries and I think pomegranate syrup, beets with mint and mulberries, red peppers in oil and other delicious things, and I cannot remember what the last dish was. The restaurant made five different mezze each day and you got what they had. All fantastic.
Rich stunned by size of the fresh hot lavash in Fethyie.
Restaurant cat stunned that I shared almost half of one chicken shish with them. Friends for life.
Simit elevenses in Fethiye mid bike ride. A simit is the circular bread which you could be forgiven for thinking is a bagel. Similar, and chewy delicious.

One thing we fantasized about during the long months of stay at home pandemic were hotel breakfasts. Remember that one, we’d say, in Kuala Lumpur? Or that one in Sweden with the fish? We like our breakfasts. A hotel breakfast buffet done well is a travel memory created.

This hotel in Antalya created breakfast memories, for sure.
The second morning we knew to go for a walk first and arrive very hungry.

Turkish breakfasts are huge. Loads of greens and veggies and olives, breads and cheeses, fruit, eggs in spicy tomato sauce. Dried fruit, nuts, yogurt, and as many cups of çay (black tea) as you can handle. And coffee of course, Turkish coffee.

Dinner at the pension at Lake Eğirdir. They would have three options on offer, all cooked fresh on site. With a fantastic view over the lake. Kofte for me and chicken for Rich. And again fantastic mezze. I am on the hunt for a cookbook of Turkish mezze written in English.
Hey, how about a dish that was developed to use up dry stale bread and leftovers bits of butchered animals? Another restaurant that does one thing only. Two please.
Tirit, broken open to reveal the yogurt and bread under the meat. Delicious. This was in Konya, a more traditional city. Oh, that little dish of peppers? Spicy. Very spicy.
Into every trip some comfort food must come. Pancakes in Izmir at a woman owned cafe whose owner also walked me over to her hairdresser for a haircut.

I hope this trip down food memory lane was as fun for you to browse as it was for us to eat. Any restaurant choosing squabbles we may have had are forgotten. Any long treks up and down streets considering and rejecting places to eat only helped sharpen our appetites. To all the restaurant cats I didn’t manage to share meals with, I’m sorry. I did my best.

Me? I got very few tidbits.
The happy well fed travelers on our last full day in Turkey. Overlooking the harbor of Izmir and thinking about lunch.

Ancient sites and a cozy neighborhood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Storks nesting on the ruins of the aqueduct in Selçuk.

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

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

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

Getting the goats home in the afternoon.

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

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

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

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

The Las Vegas I didn’t know.

It had been decades since we’ve visited Las Vegas. How long? Well, casinos were still using coins the last time we visited. And if the fact that the slot machines now print out paper receipts is news to you too – welcome to my shocked world.

The fountains at the Bellagio. Reliable free fun.

We went to Vegas to visit with family who had a trip already planned. That’ll be fun we thought, to be there with people who know Vegas. And was it! I came away with so many insights about this desert vacation mecca. And, a renewed belief that you cannot judge a place you don’t know.

Escalator to heaven?

First realization: It’s a fairly egalitarian vacation destination. You can go high spending, fancy, big gambling budget, top dollar shows, or, as we saw many folks doing, lower budget,weekday, bring food to your room and walk around enjoying the sights. And, according to the gaming reports issued, fewer people are gambling. And more are bringing children with them. As we all know, a child with access to a swimming pool on vacation is a happy child.

Fremont Street Experience. A bit about the “showgirls” in pink feathers and the ones in yellow in the previous photo: you pay them to take a photo with you. Like the cartoon characters and super heros in Times Square, NYC. I am neutral on this – there were quite a few men in cowboy hats or bow ties with bare chests also available for photos – equal opportunity exploitation? If it is exploitation.

Another shock, the walking experience along the strip is actually not bad. Of course it wasn’t hot yet, but the sidewalks are fine, there are pedestrian overpasses with escalators and stairs, and although the urbanist in me screams ‘change the light timing to reflect the real world person through put’ (many more humans on foot crossing the street than people in cars, yet the light is held green for the space hogging cars). There are very few places to stop, sit, and observe life which are not part of a paid experience, but there is quite a bit of outdoor plaza life. And for many, this may be the best walkable, social, planned urban area they get to enjoy.

The spring decorations at the Bellagio. Instagram heaven.
Neon Cowgirl Vegas Vickie.

Although I’m a white woman with no experience of what travel is like for people of color, to me, Vegas seemed like a good place to travel for anyone. The diversity of people, and shared sense of fun, of vacation enjoyment, was really very uplifting. Yes, it’s all wrapped around a gambling culture that wants to separate you from your money, but all seemed to be very welcome. The hospitality felt the same no matter who you were. And the people watching is fantastic. Folks are having fun and looking amazing while they do.

Family time!
The men in blue.

If you find travel interesting, you can find anyplace interesting. This trip was a good reminder to put aside preconceived notions and simply look around and enjoy. There really is no where like Las Vegas.

Rich with a Chihuly backdrop.
The happy travelers.

The best part of Vegas was our time with family, the best part of San Francisco was time with friends. And now we are off to our next adventure, Turkey. We fly to Istanbul tomorrow.

Nasoni di Roma

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

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

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

The nasone down the street from where we stayed.

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

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

Some fountains have glamorous backgrounds.

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

Other nasoni have more utilitarian surroundings.

Representative of a typical street scene.

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

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

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

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

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

The happy travelers in the colosseum.

Truly charming Alberobello. Trulli.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao Italia!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The happy travelers. Up next, Rome and the USA.

The Rise and Fall of Civilizations…

One of the joys of extended travels is discovering the connections and overlapping layers of history, from the Neolithic to this shocking few weeks in Post Cold War Europe. You see snippets of history, in both the context of the ancient society, and the modern context of how it is presented.

Chariot ruts in Pompei show just how much traffic plied these streets, and that there are always infrastructure maintenance backlogs!

In this part of the world, it is still stunning to discover the vastness and complexities of the Roman empire from Morocco to England, and of course, in modern Italy.

Literally layers of history at Herculaneum, right up to the old shoreline.

The past week’s events in Ukraine overlapping with visits to two of the world’s greatest archeological sites, Herculaneum and Pompéi has been sobering. Most of us understand the risks of Putins end game, but it’s especially painful for Europeans who bore the brunt of two world wars and protracted Cold War. History does feel like it is doomed to repeat itself.

The empty Herculaneum on a Monday morning; a joy to explore!

There is a lot to take in at both UNESCO sites, so we decided it was best to separate our visits by a few days. We had planned on trying to get to Herculaneum early on Sunday morning from Naples, and set out from our hotel at 8am sharp only to be stymied by misinformation on the metro and train schedules….(BTW the Moovit app is best in Naples).

I wonder what was for lunch?

So as we sat on a crowded platform, with the prospect of getting to Herculaneum 1 1/2 hours after opening on by far the busiest day of the week, we decided eating €5 train tickets was a small price to pay for a better experience and left the station for another day. Another blessing of long term travels.

Looking towards the impluvium…Roman Villas are so impressive for their thought in design and layout; not much to improve in 2000 years of architectural development.

It was a great decision as we were able to stop at Herculaneum on the way to Sorrento on Monday, and had the place practically to ourselves….oh, and the sky was bluer on Monday too -:). This also gave us the opportunity to watch the excellent BBC documentary on Herculaneum which really did enhance our experience the next day.

Endless Pompei….20,000 lived here at its peak and 18,000 did get out on August 24, AD 79

Both Herculaneum and Pompéi are on the CircumVesuvia regional train line that runs from Naples to Sorrento, so an “on the way” visit is a great option, especially as both sites have left luggage facilities. The Pompéi entrance is very close to the train station, but Herculaneum is almost a kilometer away downhill, so best if you are traveling light with backpack luggage, but it is certainly doable with a roller bag (if you can stand the sound on the sidewalks!)

Left luggage at Herculaneum…simple services like this can make a travel day possible.

Herculaneum was a prosperous and smaller city than Pompéi; kind of a posh suburb. When it was hit by the huge earthquake of AD 62, many of its wealthier residents took the damage as an opportunity to remodel…of course, only to be buried by 50 feet of the pyroclastic flows of Mt. Vesuvius just years later in AD 79. The site is compact and surprising in its somewhat dense surroundings of a more modern town.

Yes, there were cats in Pompei

What was also surprising to us, was all the people that still live in the shadow of the mountain, taking a calculated risk that it won’t erupt soon, or with such force. They say there will be some warning from the vulcanologists and seismologists next time. And of course, we lived in San Francisco for 30 years, so can understand taking a risk living somewhere you love or is your home. Or both.

The restored vineyards of Pompei with Vesuvius in waiting.

After a nice day off in Sorrento walking in the local hills of lemon groves, we visited Pompéi by taking the train back from Sorrento on Wednesday, and again enjoyed an enjoyed light crowds.

Taking a Roman break walking in the hills of Sorrento, with spring finally showing it’s serious in Southern Europe

In fact we walked up to the ticket window at 9:30 am with no line. It did get a bit busier as the day went on, but still an apparent trickle compared to pre-COVID times, as the tour buses have not returned yet. Somewhat a golden time for travel if you can get here.

The tranquil footpaths to Marina Lobra, near Sorrento

Pompéi is vast and sprawling, and it stuns you with the scale of the city’s ancient streets, sidewalks, and lunch cafes. Romans ate lunch out routinely, apparently to feed their appetites building vast baths, forums, and an amphitheater.

The slight curves and meanders of Pompeii’s roads was insightful urban planning

It was so easy to visualize the vibrant community, with its rolling and meandering streets, variety of villas, and the detailed understanding that has been miraculously deduced about the residents of almost every significant building. Artists, traders, cooks, politicians, and more recently nearby, slave quarters that give insight into the reality of the indentured servitude that supported much of the Roman’s impressive legacy.

The work never stops at Pompei, as new discoveries await daily. Amazing.

It also helps to visit the fantastic Archaeology museum in Naples first as we did, so you can see many of the original artifacts, frescos, sculptures, and mosaics first, and the drop them into Pompéi and Herculaneum, like objects in SimCity AD79. There are a lot of in situ items still remaining at both sites, and many buildings at Pompéi are under restoration or access is limited to protect the fragile elements from so many visitors.

Art and story telling enriched every aspect of Roman life….it all feels so modern.

So as we headed out of Pompéi to continue along the Amalfi coast, we both relished this unique time to travel, our freedom, and the fact that our civilization is generally still thriving. But also more cognizant than ever that it can fall apart in an instant….or at least an archeological instant. We have to learn from history and react.

The happy travelers looking for their seats in the Amphitheater

Peace and love to all, especially to those who have recently fled their homes from an impending calamity.

Naples. Who knew?

Naples, and Mt. Vesuvius topped with snow.

Some say it’s too gritty and sketchy. A couple we met thought it felt unsafe. It’s far too easy to be put off a place by reading negative on line comments. But, we also heard from people that Naples is all about great food, and that the people are quite nice. Thankfully we decided to make up our own minds and visit. We had a wonderful three days. What a great food city. Friendly people. Train and metro system could use a bit of love and money, but yeah, so could a lot of cities’ transit systems.

Some of the metro trains were seriously tagged. New Yorkers of a certain age will feel nostalgic.

It was a busy weekend in Naples, with loads of Italian families in town for Carnivale festivities, and to enjoy the lifting of some Covid restrictions. The hotel front desk said it was their first really busy weekend since the start of Covid. The city was hopping, and many of the restaurants we had researched were booked solid every evening. But we used our long honed traveler restaurant radar and did quite well.

Our secret power? Eat early by Italian standards. 7:30 pm.
Another good trick is to find a lovely tiny little bar and ask the very nice owner to take your photo and recommend a restaurant.
Got the last free table, had a wonderful meal, and provided free entertainment to the room full of locals.

Naples really earns its food reputation. The restaurants and pastry shops, although daunting with their fast moving busy customers and workers, were very worth the occasional “dorky tourist” feeling. Usually we watch how things work for a bit before plunging in, but when it’s really busy that can be hard. So, make mistakes, do it wrong, but get to that pastry!

Clams and snails for sale. Also fish and eels.
Sausage and pork on display.
Sfogliatella and Fiocco di Neve. This was a bakery where we did do everything wrong in ordering, but still managed to eat wonderful pastries. Thank you kind workers.
We thought we knew good pizza. Naples pizza is next level delicious.
And yet, still room for gelato. Many of the narrow streets of the historic center are car free. Sometimes you think they are simply too narrow for a car, and along comes one squeezing by restaurant tables and threading through pedestrians.
The Toledo metro station. A work of art.
The happy travelers at Castel Sant’Elmo overlooking the Bay of Naples.

Up next, more of southern Italy, including two ancient Roman cities destroyed by Vesuvius.

Venice exhales with Carnivale spirit.

The Grand Canal view from Ca’ Rezzonico Museum.

What to do as tourist numbers are still down in the (hopefully) waning months of the pandemic? Head to places usually much too crowded to consider. We always say the B and C destinations are our thing, we prefer the less visited sites. But the idea of Venice with fewer tourists? Yes please. We didn’t even realize it was the start of Carnivale. With Italy just lifting the outdoor mask requirements a few weeks ago, we were surprised and happy to learn that Carnivale was on – in a more limited way than usual.

Our first sighting of a costumed reveler.
The edge of Piazza San Marco.

At first I was a bit timid about taking photos. But the revelers were posing for everyone. It reminded me of a Halloween/Beach Blanket Babylon mash up.

The masks have eyeholes, but with black mesh over them. The wearers are able to see but not well. They are super careful going up and down the bridge steps.
Looking so regal and poised.
Having a chat with friends.

It was Piazza San Marco and the lack of crowds there that really made us appreciate what a unique time this was to visit Venice. Like much of the world we watched with horror the terrible effects of the pandemic in Italy, and wondered what it would feel like to be tourists in the after times. Since we don’t speak much Italian, it’s difficult to know what the locals are feeling about the return of tourists. Yes, it’s a big part of the economy, but for all of us who spent the lockdown days in places with usually high tourism levels, it was nice to get a breather from over-tourism. How to navigate the return of what can be an onslaught? What we do is try to be good tourists, respectful visitors, and keep our impact as low as possible.

On a bridge on the island of Murano. I nod my thanks and say bellissima.
Who doesn’t love costumes?
The view from the other side. Piazza San Marco.

We spent a wonderful three nights walking, taking Vaporetto (the public transit boats), eating, and enjoying being in a city that seems unbelievable.

The view from a bridge. Somewhere on a day of many miles of walking.
Stylish Italians photobomb our vaporetto usie.
Evening on the Grand Canal.
Sun setting behind gondolas.
The happy travelers catching the setting sun.

And now we’re on a train to Naples, where we anticipate more Carnivale activities all weekend long.

Six months of travel. Already.

Pre flight testing at San Francisco airport the day before our flight in August, 2021.

Six months of travel so far. I should add the word only to remind myself it’s ONLY been six months. It feels much longer. To have so many new experiences after 18 months of home body living skews your sense of time. We talk about something we did three months ago and it feels as if it were a year or more in the past. I want to tell you what we’ve learned, and what have been our successes, but first – what do I miss?

Baking. Like many I leaned into cooking and baking during the height of the pandemic. I miss my sour cream coffee cake.

Friends and family are of course on top of the list of what I miss. And I miss baking. But, for everything I miss (except friends and family), there is a consolation activity or option.

Danish bakery in London. Bakeries are a lovely consolation for not being able to bake.

I miss knowing our way around a place. Living for so many years in SF meant I could bike, walk, or take transit almost anywhere without consulting a map. Now, maps are our constant friends.

Rich working the smartphone and paper map on a foggy hike near Grange-Over-Sands.

The upside of not knowing your way around is the constant discovery of new things. Every place, every turn of a corner, every walk to a museum, restaurant, or train station might have an unexpected gem just waiting for us to notice it.

Arrived by bus to Axminster train station in need of a snack. A sign pointed us 50 yards away to a milk vending machine.
Chocolate milk? Yes please.

Every fun discovery gives us a chance to chat with locals, like the gent who was coming to refill his milk bottles at the milk vending machine and walked us through the process. And then a man returning to his work truck from a hardware store nearby stopped to congratulate us on finally figuring out the vending machine, and we chatted for 20 minutes, hearing about his trips to Scotland and France and sharing our own travel stories. It’s not the same as seeing old friends while walking or biking in SF, and we’ll never see those two men again, but I will claim them as momentary friends.

Typical room while bike touring. Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

Comfortable furniture. That we miss! If a hotel room has two chairs we consider ourselves lucky. If even one of them is actually comfortable we’re thrilled.

Two chairs. And fairly comfortable. Heated floors, good for drying laundry. Disentis, Switzerland.

The uncomfortable furniture is a small price to pay for the privilege of travel like this. Our time in the UK helped us appreciate slow travel. And I’ve learned to fluff, flip, and rearrange the couch seat cushions in our rental apartments to try and eke out a bit more comfort .

Dinner ready to be cooked in an apartment in Colmar, France.

So what have we learned to make ourselves happy and healthy while traveling long term? Cook for ourselves as much as possible which means apartments with kitchens. We amass a roving pantry when we’re staying in places with kitchens. And we check for a local farmers market first thing.

Farmers Market haul from Keswick, in the Lake District.
Yoga mat folded up for travel. It’s thin and natural rubber so quite sticky.

Exercise is key. Easy when bike touring and when getting a lot of walking in, but we both have specific stretches and strength building exercises we need to do. Enter travel yoga mat. It’s nice to have and even more, it’s a good reminder to actually do the stretches and work outs. After trying to buy it in person I caved and ordered from Amazon to be delivered to an Amazon locker in London. I also ended up ordering laundry detergent sheets from Amazon to be delivered to a locker in Liverpool. Again after failing to find them at local shops. As much as I don’t love Amazon, the ability to get deliveries while traveling is very helpful. Laundry sheets are a fantastic travel item. Light to carry and useful for sink laundry as well as for confusing all in one washer/dryer combo machines.

Defunct train viaduct near Lyme Regis. Rich added for scale. Walking keeps us happy.
The happy, clean, well exercised travelers in France.

We are currently in France, swapping out some gear for our next adventures. Where to next? Italy.