Good Day Sunshine!

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

Some early morning sun in Regent’s Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great pubs everywhere…this one above Hamstead Heath

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

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

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

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

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

These beautiful Egyptian geese were a little too friendly!

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

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

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

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

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

Edinburgh has our hearts. Bring your walking boots.

Castle tour on a grey day. So lucky to have family to spend time with.

Edinburgh is a delightful city. The hills and stairways remind us of San Francisco- but with very different architecture. To see gothic spires dark against a cloudy sky, and the castle lit up with red lights as you turn to look back climbing a staircase reminds us how lucky we are to be traveling, even with the added challenges.

Who cares about a little rain? Not us. And not the locals apparently, not many umbrellas in sight, just jackets with hoods.

We’ve been in an apartment near Grassmarket with my sister and her youngest daughter, and what a joy to get to spend so much time with them, to light the fire after long walks and all curl up with books.

Dramatic skies from Arthur’s Seat, the ancient volcano.
Rich and I took a bus ride out to Pentland Hills for a hike.
For years we’ve had a running joke about Scottish trail builders not believing in switchbacks. And here we are, going straight up the mountain.
As we climbed the fog thickened and the distant views were cloaked, but that made us notice the smaller vignettes instead.
Ice on the barbed wire.
Iced over grass.
Beautiful colors and my intrepid travel planner.

Even with COVID crimping plans a bit (no pub fireside sitting this trip) with all of us boosted and being cautious we did some indoor activities, such as tea at The Dome. An early time slot meant we were mostly alone. The Dome was decorated enough to satisfy even my love for Christmas cheer.

The former bank building takes a lot of garlands.
The Christmas tree at the bar does not disappoint. And there’s the dome.
Oh yes, there trays of yummy food.

In keeping with these COVID times we did stick to mostly outdoor activities. Please don’t think that’s a hardship in a place as beautiful as Scotland. In a city as dramatic as Edinburgh you want to spend a lot time exploring and stopping to look around.

Dean Village on the Water of Leith. My fellow happy travelers.
The Dean Bridge.

Traveling with a civil engineer means there will be pauses to admire impressive infrastructure. ”The bridge was one of the last major works before retirement of the bridge designer, civil engineer Thomas Telford, and was completed in 1831 when he was seventy-three years old.”

Edinburgh Castle from the western kirkyard shortcut – avoids the climb over the mound.
The wall of whiskey at The Drinkmonger. Another safe activity is buying and drinking whiskey.
No such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. Rich shows how it’s done.
Greyfriars Kirkyard. Love the drama of bare branches against a grey sky.
The Happy Travelers on Arthur’s Seat. Fog light is quite flattering.

Today we bid farewell to Scotland and head to London for a week. After that, who knows. We’re eyeing a few places in the UK to do some hiking, or, if France decides folks coming from the UK can again enter France, back to Paris. Stay safe friends and family. Wherever we are we will stay safe as well.

How to have fun in the UK while staying safe? Stay outside.

The Tower Bridge and the recently boostered travelers.

The Eurostar from Paris to London delivered us to a world where Omicron was causing worry and rising cases. Our first task was our required COVID test, and our next task was to find a place to get our booster shots. A bit of on line searching led us to Guys St. Thomas hospital, some standing in line and some waiting in chairs, and two hours later we were boosted.

The unassuming site of our boosters. There was no charge even for foreigners, so we went on line and donated money to the hospital.

While we wait the seven days for our immune systems to ramp up their responses we stay out in the fresh, healthy, bracing, clean, cold, brisk outside.

Family! So lucky to have these two to spend time with. Walking the Regents Canal.
We visit outdoor beer gardens and order pizza, bundled up.
Order your pizza and meet their bicycle delivery person out front.
Walking on Hampstead Heath, the view from Parliament Hill.
Pint of cider at lunch in another pub garden.
Take out dinner in our hotel room. The glamorous side of travel during COVID. This made me feel for everyone who has quarantined in a hotel room during the time of COVID.
Masked up, windows open, enjoying the top deck of a London bus.

No lie, it freaks us out to see pubs and restaurants full of unmasked people enjoying themselves in London. We watch the COVID numbers rise and retreat even further into our safe behavior. With our Christmas plans shifting and changing we get on the tube and to the train station to head to Edinburgh.

Early Sunday tube ride.
The numbers of transit riders are down again in this new wave of Omicron.
At Kings Cross Station to get on a train to Edinburgh.
Auld Reekie. Edinburgh. Hello.
The Happy Travelers out in the fresh air of Scotland.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and stay safe all.

Funky Warm Medinas

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.

The very real Medina of Tétouan, vertical and varied life within a larger middle class city

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.

We were always comfortably out of comfort zone in Morocco

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.

Small squares like this in Marrakech offer more space for informal vendors and a break from the maze of alleys

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.

Beautiful Blue Chefchaouen

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)

Fes on the jumah (prayer day)…a good time to walk about in relative calm

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.

The magical and endless souks of Fes
Gates and walls control access to the Medinas and huge Kasbah walls limit the chance of invasion…except by tourists

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.

The Moulay Idriss medina is completely vertical: so most goods still moved by foot and donkey (and Cheryl!)
Lots of hand crafted wood still throughout Morocco
Chief Sewer Inspector

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.

Light rays for cats can be precious in winter, but narrow alleys mean less heat and sun the rest of the year
The medina fish market of Essaouira…cats out of view

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.

Most of the medinas have some “main streets” that are wider and allow some motorized access for construction and deliveries
Cheryl not smiling at the fairly typical drab streetscapes outside the medinas
But inside, nightime is particularly magical

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.

The food souks and services are still at the core of almost every Medina
And so much good food, so close!

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.

Sneaker and Track Suit Alley in Meknès…not much space as each vendor has extended their retail space into the path of travel!
Same space, early morning, encroachments retracted!
And the same Meknes Medina from above…you often wonder how it all works

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”.

Bikes are very popular in Essaouiara, typical of most flat beach towns

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.

The happy travelers back in Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting for our room while relaxing by the pool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe , and Happy Holidays all.

It’s getting awkward…

Hello empty restaurant, we will be your only lunch customers.

Morocco welcomes about 6 million tourists a year, per 2019 numbers. That’s an average of 17,000 per day. When we arrived in November to Tangier we could tell that numbers were low, tourism was just picking up, but there were other tourists. Other folks at our Riad, other slightly stunned faces getting lost in the Medina, other tables at restaurants occupied by non locals.

Rich enjoying a lovely meal in Essaouira. One other group showed up at what is, according to reviews, a very popular and busy farm to table restaurant.

When the travel ban to Morocco was announced and the borders closed to incoming flights on November 30th, the numbers of other tourists started going down, and of course was not replenished. We were in Meknes when that news came, and we could tell the mood soured at the Riads and restaurants which had made themselves tourist friendly, only to be told once again they would be without tourists, without a livelihood.

The proprietor was very gracious and explained the limited menu being served. We were the only ones again.

Moroccans are some of the most welcoming and friendly people you will meet. It hurts us to see the numbers of travelers going down and down as folks find flights out, like a lovely Canadian brother and sister we met, or the nice guy from the UK who was on a 10 day trip. It’s more noticeable in a town like Essaouira, which is a very popular town with travelers and tourists.

The Medina is always interesting, and people were only kind and helpful.
The smart Medina cat sleeps by the large bags of cat food.

There is a sweet spot of travel which we seek out and love – not too crowded, off peak or shoulder season, places are open but not busy, locals aren’t overwhelmed with visitors – this is not that time. This is too empty. Restaurants not opening because why bother? Vendors with no tourist customers and no tourist money coming in. It feels awkward to be the only customers in a restaurant, the only non locals strolling the shop lined Medina streets. We feel so bad for the economic hit being taken and wish we could somehow make up for the missing thousands of tourists, but of course we can’t. So we are extra nice, we tip extra large, and inside we cringe.

This one looks like they take no nonsense from anyone, cat or human.
After six days in Essaouira Rich had committed the “grid” to memory. I just followed him.

We feel totally safe here, COVID numbers are low, vaccination rates are high, but we do hope that our planned December 14th flight out will happen, and Morocco will be down two more tourists. We’ve already decided that if for some reason we don’t get out, we’ll go to Rabat again, which is a city that doesn’t depend on tourists and where we could just live life without feeling so awkward.

Awkwardly happy travelers.

It’s an interesting and challenging time to be traveling. We knew that COVID wasn’t done with the world yet, and we had discussed a scenario such as this. Stay safe all, we’ve left the coast and are heading for the Atlas Mountains.

Essaouira easy life.

The travel planner leaping into the sunset.

Easy but not completely stress free. Although we have no jobs or children to get back to, and our friends and family will understand if we miss Christmas in the UK, it’s an odd feeling, not knowing if things will ease up or tighten down. Will we go or will we stay.

Horse and hounds and kite surfing.

We’re in an apartment in the Medina with a gorgeous view and a treacherous staircase. We go up and down saying big step, little step, medium, big, medium, medium, small – oh, big! It’s almost but not quite spiral to add to the fun. We look out to the ocean and the ramparts which were used in Game of Thrones. The rooftop terrace offers another stunning view, but the wind which makes Essaouira a windsurfing hot spot also makes terrace life a bit tricky. My glasses almost got swept off the table and out to sea.

Wine glass holding firm against the wind on the rooftop terrace of the second apartment.
Somewhere along these ramparts the Mother of Dragons did her thing.
Sunday morning at low tide there were so many Football games going on. The wide beach at low tide is a great games field.
Another beautiful sunset.
We spend some time watching the tides.
We spend time on the beach.
We spend time greeting kitties in the Kasbah.
The view from our living room where we sit and read. Rich’s feet added for scale.
Essaouira. Sure is easy on the eyes, say these happy travelers.

We head to Marrakech in a few days, and maybe on a flight on to the UK a few days after that. Rich is busy figuring out what the current requirements are, and where and when to get our COVID tests. But for now we are happy here in Essaouira, eating good food, going on beach walks, and enjoying our little apartment.

Moving on in Morocco – we’re still here!

“Salam, Bonjour, Hello!” Morocco’s mixed colonial past and tight relationship with the US makes for a very interesting travel dynamic and has caused me to engage in this hierarchy of greetings. Arabic for respect, French as a backup, and chippy English hello to let them know we are American. We all love each other, right?!

Near Meknès, Moulay Idriss is important in Islam as the site of the tomb of Idris I

After leaving Meknès by train, we settled into a great apartment in the center of Rabat, conveniently just 5 minute from the Rabat Ville train station.

Our beef kebab vendor drumming up business in Moulay Idriss

After Fès, Meknès, and Moulay Idriss, Rabat felt a little like returning to Europe, with a more diverse, prosperous, and international feel. Of course as the capital of Morocco, it has the many trappings of a capital city..embassies, agencies, and fancier restaurants. It also has a vibrant Medina and visible middle class.

Cheryl chasing a donkey in Moulay

Rabat is a good walking city, with fresh Atlantic air and wide sidewalks with one notable addition….more cars. They rule the streets a bit more and have a disturbing habit of parking them willy-nilly across any available space.

The very successful tram system of Rabat – 2 busy modern lines carrying 100k people a day

But for the most part, it is pretty well managed, and traffic across Morocco is pretty light. It feels that they have built a lot of infrastructure in preparation for a future that they have not grown into yet.

France or Morocco?

Everyone with some means or touching the tourism sector is talking about the shutdown of air travel here through the 13th of December. Optimistically, we have a flight booked to London via Madrid for the 14th. We continue to monitor the situation, but don’t expect confirmation that flights will actually resume until later this week at the earliest when maybe more is known globally about Omicron.

New Instagram contacts in Meknès!

The Moroccan government has taken COVID very seriously and had good success at stemming the cases and deaths over the past 21 months; however, this means there is a strong chance that the travel ban is extended. When that happens, we will then be stuck in Morocco, but not trapped, as this is an amazing country with lots to discover and enjoy, with almost no tourists. Strange times indeed.

The early evening stroll in Rabat

The embassy has sent one notice via the STEP (safe traveler program) system which we signed up for prior to coming to Morocco. It just had a list of some outgoing flights that were scheduled until the 6th. Most are filled, cancelled, or outrageously expensive, so we are sticking to our hope that we will have more options in a week or two… slight anxiety, but manageable.

The olive oil presses keep Morocco running and is always fresh and delicious
The amazing ruins of Volubilis, a once thriving village at the limits of the Roman empire …prosperity based on olive oil of course.

So we continue to explore historic sites, museums, and eat as much as we can to make up for the lack of other tourists. While many Moroccan museums can still use some better curation (and funding no doubt) there are some gems. The King Mohammed VI museum of contemporary art in Rabat is one of these, with 2 great exhibitions, and permanent Moroccan and African modern art galleries.

Very modern Moroccan art

The range, depth, and voices portrayed in art from the continent was particularly fascinating to us, as it’s not something you see covered much in Euro-Anglo museums. The building is also beautiful. A bargain at $2 and arguably a better experience than the Louvre crowd madness.

“The Horse” by famous Colombian Fernando Botero at Museum of Modern Art in Rabat.

We also made the better part of a sunny Wednesday heading out to the National Zoo. It’s a great zoo with surprising infrastructure and vast open area for many of the African animals, both those endemic to Morocco and the more transitional central and South African Savannah creatures.

Stare off at the Rabat Zoo

A word of caution, we took a small blue taxi out there as it’s 5km from central Rabat, but it was not easy finding a taxi (or bus) back! We walked about 1.5 miles along a busy road (sidewalks yes, taxis no) and finally were able to flag one at the edge of an 8-lane arteial. Just in time, as our marital travel bliss was fraying with this challenge.

If we can’t get home, there is always Lemur Island at the zoo

We liked Rabat and our apartment a lot, so extended to 4 nights and actually felt a little sad leaving for our onward adventures. But we decided to head to the coastal “surf/beach” city of Essaouria by 4 hour trian to Marrakech, and Supratours bus for 3- hour final leg.

Transfer to the bus in Marrakech…are we in Phoenix or Las Vegas?

You buy Supratours bus with the trains ticket and they are run by same National rail service, ONCF, similar to Amtrak thruway buses in the US. The train ride was really nice at 60-100 mph and allowed our first glimpse of the more arid south and the dramatic High Atlas Mountains south of Marrakech. Lots of snow across the whole range!

Relaxing on the train to Marrakech

We have now arrived in Essaouira and checked into our first apartment, which is nicely equipped and comfortable but no sun or views, so we will be moving tomorrow to a place on the edge of the Medina with ocean views. The uncertainty of our times has pushed us to seek some comfort and perks due to the lack of tourists.

We keep exploring and the world spins on

Stay tuned for updates and let’s hope Omicron doesn’t cause much more misery in the world. Collective fingers crossed.

Oh-Ohmicron!

We headed out of Chefchouen on Thursday morning, and despite the light drizzle, decided to walk the mile or so out of the Medina down to the bus station.

CTM buses connect everywhere

It was nice to stretch out the legs before the 4+ hour trip to Fes via the generally pleasant and reliable CTM bus line.

Cheryl in her Cleverhood, perfect for rainy travel and keeping your pack dry too!
Bonus of a long bus journey is the midway food stop: amazing charcoal grilled spiced lamb…oh so good!

We could have also taken a ‘petit taxi’, which are everywhere and serve mostly locals, often in shared rides. They generally don’t use meters, especially for tourists, so always agree a quick price before getting in; not much hassle, but it helps to know the ballpark fare by asking your Riad contact or researching online.

These sidewalks were made for walking

One thing we love about Morocco are the prevalence of good sidewalks on most city streets, even in some rural areas. They are often a non slip surface (sandstone?) and patterned in a brick and tan color; and often accompanied by nice street lights.

Sidewalks even good enough for these cats

Chefchaouen had more tourists than Tanger and Tetouan (almost zero!), so it was interesting to see how a more tourist oriented mountain town was recovering from from pandemic travel impacts.

Heading up into the Rif Mountains

It has a lot going for it besides the picturesque blue and tidy Medina. There is lots of good hiking nearby, even right from town. The Rif Mountains dramatically rise thousands of feet above and were shrouded in a magical autumnal cloud mist.

Some young new friends who probably haven’t seen many tourists in past 20 months…lots of smiles and English practice.

We have learned that hiking and outdoor activity is always a huge boost to our mental state when embarking on more culturally foreign travels. So we were pleased to get in a nice few hours of hiking up beyond the Spanish Mosque.

Waiting for tea at the aptly named Cafe Panorama, which is well disguised as a family homestead.

Admittedly, we headed to Fès with a bit of Medina burnout. But after setting out into the pre Jummah (Friday prayers) frenzy of the markets on a Thursday afternoon, we were soon both jolted back into sensory overload.

The Bronze Market in Fès

The scale; scents, sights, and sounds of the vegetable, meat, spice, and trade markets that spread out along the Medina edge near our Riad and the Place r’cif was surreal and a travel moment we won’t soon forget.

A calm section of the Fès Souk

But we woke up the next day to the news of the new variant, and both realized that the fragile recovery of much of the world may be pushed back again. It makes us immediately sad for those we have met in our travels that really depend on tourism, as well as parks, conservation, and resources.

Live snails by the scoop

All flights are cancelled out of 8 Southern African countries and restrictions popping up elsewhere quickly. But with Omicron cases showing up in other counties, it’s just too soon to make a drastic decision. The safest decision would have probably been to stay in San Francisco…but that ship has long sailed! So where to go and what to do?

Long bean soup in a bubbling clay pot by the Creek – the perfect post hike treat

Options to return to Europe or the US may prove to be less safe or the variant may prove not a game changer in risk with the vaccinated. Or it may be worse? So we’ve decided to press on for now, unless the state department really advises to leave. Morocco still has very low COVID rates and a relatively high vaccination success at ~65%.

Bab BouJeloud (“Blue Gate”) in Fes: the Medina gates used to close at 6pm and you had to get permission to enter into by the gatekeeper!

We also just heard that flights into Morocco have been suspended for two weeks! Everyone here dependent on travelers is visibly depressed. We feel so bad for them and everyone suffering through the past 20 months. And especially as the European holiday season was approaching.

We’re not sure how this might impact our ability to get out of the country, but we’ll be just down the street from the US Embassy in Rabat, so can just go knock on the door, right?! Stay tuned and stay safe!

Why so blue Chefchaouen?

A view of the blue city from a hike out of town.

When you get to Chefchaouen you will hear and read various reasons for the blue walls, blue walkways, and blue fences. The color was brought with the Jewish refugees from Spain, the color keeps the mosquitoes away, it was discovered in the 70s to be a tourist draw – but I know the real reason. It’s a fantastic backdrop for photographing cats.

Grey and white tabby stripes look good against periwinkle blue.
Vibrant blue makes this little black kitten stand out.
White is dramatic.
A calico, a blue door, and colorful hardware.
Cats colonized every comfortable spot.
Blue blue blue – cat!
Who is fascinated with who?
Some are petable.
They sit on boxes.
They sit on trash cans.
They relax and enjoy life.
Happy travelers above the blue city.

We’re currently in Fes, headed to Meknes.