Biking with Backroads

I do not own a bicycle and have not ridden one for over three years. However, due to a long layoff from travel due to Covid, I was intrigued by my sister and her husband’s plan to ride along the Loire River in France. They know their stuff as they have done numerous trips with Backroads, an upscale active travel outfitter. I too have done a few trips with them but mostly hiking. I decided to join them.

Brian, Benjamin and Marjorie: Support Staff Extraordinaire

Last time I did some biking I had to borrow clothes from another sister. I looked the part until someone noticed I had her gloves on inside out. I’m afraid of traffic and not aware of all the protocol for riders in a group. I was concerned enough to consider practice but did not want to risk visiting the gym during this crazy pandemic. It was suggested that I sign up for one of their e-bikes and let the guides teach me everything I needed to know. That was the route I wisely chose. Luckily, I had kept up with my fitness. Although, I was nervous every time I had to take one hand of the handle bars to signal.

I run out of superlatives when describing the guides, the equipment, the routes, the lodging and the food. In addition our guides were well versed in the history, geography and local lore; and they could handle any emergency from flat tires to finding a pharmacy that would open early in order for me to get my covid test before traveling home.

I highly recommend Backroads to any person who wants an incredibly fun and active vacation. Their catalogs describing their various trips is worthy of sitting on any coffee table from a mansion to my humble studio apartment! I will share a daily report of my delightful days in the Loire Valley in my upcoming blogs.

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Frenzy and Fireworks on the Fourth

After months of relative quiet the San Diego beaches were awash with crowds and craziness. Adorned in our red, white and blue, my daughter and I decided to observe the celebration while hopefully avoiding the virus, skateboards, bikes and being overwhelmed by the hordes.

A special thank you to all the city personnel and the many volunteers who will restore our beaches and parks to a more pristine paradise.

Happy Summer!
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The Lap of Luxury

As a single woman traveling alone I was hesitant to book a palatial resort especially when “honeymoon” is a big draw in the Seychelles. But the Constance Ephelia has 300+ rooms: advertising Senior Suites, Family Villas, Beach Houses, and Junior Suites. I was able to book at a discount through Emirates Airlines and decided to go with the half-board option due to both Covid and that I would not be renting a car.

Tourism had recently opened and all vaccinated vacationers did not need to quarantine although you needed to be tested before arrival and had to promise to wear a mask anytime you encountered others not in your party. As far as I could determine most all of the tourists were either from Russia or Israel.

This resort, through their boat houses and fitness center, offered guided hikes, zip-lining, paddle boarding, wind surfing, snorkeling, kayaking, sailing and a chance to feed the tortoises! All of these activities were included in the price of the room. Which was expensive! I only ate the two meals a day and limited myself to one glass of wine daily as drinks were extra.

This paradise stretches over 300 acres of green and sand, hills and lagoons. Two of the most beautiful beaches on this island are here. There are bikes to use without sign up and golf carts cruising by to pick you up every 10 minutes. However, I preferred walking the beaches past restaurants and various swimming pools!

With such a large capacity it was nice to know that at least 55% of employees were local and that they have their own water treatment facility! Many of the other staff were young people from around the world who were using their skills to travel, to dive and to meet other like-minded people.

Since I had to check out by noon on the last day and had many hours before my flight I hired the taxi driver I met on arrival to give me a guided tour of the entire island. It was money well spent. Allen stopped at places of interest, drove over the mountain and around the coast and kept me entertained with history lessons and culture details.

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The Spectacular Seychelles

As one of the few countries that accepts vaccinated travelers from the USA I jumped at the opportunity to visit, regardless of the distance and expense. It had been a long time since I encountered a new country.

Seychelles is known for its beaches, reefs, giant tortoises and beauty. It did not disappoint. In addition to the lush surroundings I luckily happened upon a taxi driver who expertly answered all my inquiries about the culture and lives of the locals. While tourism is their main industry they also rely on fishing and offshore business. Education is free and compulsory; Creole is the local language and Covid-19 definitely hurt their economy.

The first inhabitants were the French who came with some African and Indian slaves. It wasn’t long before British control until 1976! Today there is a mix of cultures that include European, Indian and African, creating a delightful society in this archipelagic island country.

It sits approximately 700 miles East of Kenya in the Indian Ocean and only 3 of the 115 islands are populated with any density; there are a few private islands with homes or resorts.

I stayed on Mahe with it’s lush mountainous vegetation overlooking clear lagoons and many beaches. It is also home to the capital, Victoria. The government is commited to preservation of its biodiversity by creating parks and sanctuaries.

In my next blog I will describe living the beautiful resort life!

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Vaccinated and Ready, Set, Go?

I have not planned a real trip in over a year. I did fly twice but that was because people needed my help….no real adventure or new place. This past week I decided it was time. I looked to see which of the countries I have not visited were open to Americans. There was only one: Seychelles!  The fact that I completed my vaccinations a month ago I will not have to quarantine.  As of now, however, I will need to be tested before flying both directions.  

First attempt was disasterous as I had to book two different airlines and I totally screwed up when trying to marry the itinerary. Thankfully my initial airline allowed a change within 24 hours without penalty. I noticed that I was arriving in Dubai a few hours later than my next leg departed.  Definitely a beginner mistake, but hey, it’s been over a year since I actually booked a trip and this one was not easy. I had hoped to fly Emirates in Business Class but it was way too expensive. Next I tried Delta, my airline of choice due to great benefits if I reach Diamond Status.  They only fly as far as Dubai.  From there the only non-stop flight was on Emirates so I’m hoping I at least get to see Business Class from my economy seat.  I booked my hotel through Emirates as it was the best deal I could find. 

Next concern was who would take care of my dog? Usually my daughter and son-in-law take her but they had already agreed to help out a neighbor with her dog…and SHE PAYS THEM! I twisted her arm a bit and she will take mine for most of the week if I found someone else to take her on the weekend. Whew! My sister came to the rescue.

Finally the double check: visa not needed, euros or local currency accepted, taxis available at airport or from hotel at twice the cost. I also did half-board which is something I do when travelling alone as I feel both more comfortable eating at my hotel and safer because I don’t need to go out on my own at night.

Only 32 more days!

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Play it Again Sam

While I don’t know a Sam and I realize this is not a direct quote from Casablanca the aches and chills I have suffered all day reminded me of a time years ago when I traveled to Morocco by myself.

Luckily yesterday I received the second of my Covid vaccine and it must be working because I am basically down and out (for just a brief time I’m sure). The following is a brief synopsis of this old journey.

I arrived in Casablanca, feeling unbelievably terrible but managed to exchange money and find the train to take into the city. When I disembarked I was both confused and befuddled. My shivers offered a slight distraction from the throbbing pains that flooded my entire being. I wandered around the station for a few minutes trying to gather a sense of direction and balance. The anxiety of the moment seemed overwhelming and I forgot my conviction of sticking to public transportation. I hopped in the first taxi I saw and simply gave him the address of my hotel.

Moments later I regretted that decision as he honked at every other cab and put his fingers to his lips with a gesture that implied “Boy, do I have a sucker as my fare; she didn’t ask about the meter, the cost, rien (nothing).”I paid more for that ride than I did for the round-trip train ticket.

Upon arrival at the hotel reception desk I asked for a map and directions to a Doctor. Unfortunately it was somewhere around noon and most of the city was closed for a few hours. I bravely set forth and think I saw the old medina, some parks and some buildings. I was in a fog and had to concentrate on not getting run over as I walked across the streets. Traffic was not nearly as difficult as my wandering mind.

Finally I found a pharmacy, described my symptoms with sign language and traveler’s French and gratefully accepted whatever pills he dispensed. I had hoped to take a shower to warm up but I didn’t have the strength to turn on the faucet. I crawled into bed fully clad with all the clean clothes in my suitcase, the blankets from both beds and when I was still shivering I took the curtains down as well. I could not warm up. For the first time in years I was hot flash free for 48 hours.

Mind you, I’m not complaining as I am delighted to have the two doses of Moderna and know this is nothing compared to that horrible virus!

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When is A Trip Worth the Risk and Public Shaming?

Dr. Fauci wasn’t the only one telling me not to travel as the pandemic was surging again but I had promised my daughter I would bring her some much needed supplies. I have not taken many risks during the past year and when I did, I tried to be cautious, like wearing a mask and keeping distant from others. This particular trip to Peru was even more demanding. I had to get a special test (think expensive) proving negative results within 72 hours of landing in Lima. I also had to wear a face mask and an eye shield all the time except when eating or drinking.

Almost Ready to Board

I flew Delta as they have been very proactive in prevention and safety. They blocked off seats, kept any crowding from happening when boarding and deplaning and cleaned the bathrooms often.

Lounge is Pretty Empty

I specifically asked my daughter to exercise caution as well. I did not want to see any others while visiting, and would love to eat all meals outside. I am happy that I went as I had not seen her in a year and I truly missed her. However, my “bubble” back home were concerned that I might catch this horrible virus and spread it when I returned.

Short but Sweet Visit

The experts agree that any traveler should isolate or quarantine once again when finished with your journey for 14 days or if you take another test, for 7 days. Of course, if any symptoms appear one must be even more vigilant. I went the test route and am awaiting the results locked away in my little apartment. Thank goodness for grocery delivery and my nice neighbors who had saved a Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings for me.

There were 30 some ahead of me and at least 100 behind me!

All in all I spent as much time in the air as I did on the ground. A short trip, hopefully with few consequences.

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Doggy Haloween

My dog hates leashes, scarves or anything attached to her. So all those cute costumes are not happening here. We do enjoy walking the neighborhood though as they decorate for each of the Holidays.

Unlike my daughter’s dog, Karma, who relishes new outfits and likes to pose for the camera, Gringa tries to hide from me every time I pick up her harness.

The covid pandemic doesn’t bother her at all. She loves social distancing and would prefer to be on the opposite side of the street than actually approach another dog.

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An Escape from Home During Covid-19

My sister and both of our dogs woke up very early, donned our masks and ventured forth. Our goal for the day was San Diego to Berkeley without rush hour traffic and only a rest stop or two for gas and a dog-walk. We made it, only to choke on the air from the fires and the 98 degree heat. As we arrived ahead of schedule we were able to visit with another sister’s grandsons and daughter. A delightful end to a long drive.

Teri, Debby, Kathy

The next morning we made room for our sister from Berkeley and headed North, this time to Fort Bragg and Mendocino. Unfortunately our route went through Santa Rosa and all the fumes from the Glass Fire which was devastating wine country. We were prepared to deal with the Corona Virus but not this. Our throats, eyes and chest were sore but only until we got to the coast. I can’t imagine the weeks of suffering all those in the area are experiencing.

We stopped at a winery that was only open for sales but also had a dog run and bathrooms. It was certainly worth the price of a bottle. We enjoyed the towering Redwoods but found the road to be quite twisty and a bit stressful for the driver.

Coming from southern California we were most impressed with all the mask wearers. Everyone had them on: at the gas stations, on sidewalks, on bikes, in all stores and even while walking outside on hiking trails!

The hotel was surprisingly antiseptic. The check in was through a glass window with sanitizer everywhere. We were told that there would be no maid service during our stay but we could arrange to get towels, sheets or whatever at the front desk if needed. We had a view of the somewhat wild coast with big waves, rocks and trails leading to the beach. Refreshing. Recovering. Thankful.

During our mini-vacation we walked the beaches including the famous glass beach (only saw small green pieces and a few amber), we took the Skunk Train (with the dogs) on a trip through the Redwoods and we explored both small towns. Most stores were open as were dining venues that could serve outdoors. We ate some great pizzas and drank some good beer and wine.

On our return we were able to hike trails in the Hendy Woods State Park although this was the first place where dogs were not welcomed. Luckily the trails was short so we took turns watching them.

While this was a great break from our limited daily routine back home I miss the faraway adventures…like most of you I’m still dreaming!

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Reminiscing Road Trips Taken Long Ago

This summer road trips were popular due to Covid-19 and the need to get away. When I saw all the promotions for RV’s, SUV’s and other conveyances for family travel I fondly recalled the many family trips I took over 60 years ago. However, I did have to confirm some of the memories with my siblings since we’re talking about the 50’s!

My parents

I remember the first trips in a station wagon with mom and dad up front and then depending on typical kid arguments I ended up in the middle, the window or way in back. When Dad drove he was all about amassing as many miles as possible with few stops. We loved our first interstates with exits featuring gas stations and a restaurant with shops. We played multiple games like “out-of-state license, no taps back.” And the one where we bet each other we’d remember that license plate from Illinois, Land of Lincoln, red on white : 1585964. We all are still in that game!

Family finally complete when I was 18!

One such summer 6 of us kids were loaded into the family wagon in a quest to put our toes in each of the Great Lakes. This trip was a forerunner to the various and incredible adventures that would befall our family. Most of us recall the ferry on this journey from Muskegon to Milwaukee: my brother, because my mother volunteered him to be the alter boy for the Catholic service on board and the youngest because at 4 years old she got lost. The good news though was that the priest offered to help us get off the boat early in order to get to the baseball game that afternoon.

Family in 1994 , some 20 years after my Dad died

The family trip was a yearly affair, usually in June, but sometimes more often if a special occasion called for it. Our first trip with the orange school bus that my dad had remodeled into a RV long before those were invented, was to Alaska. We had a double bed bunk bed in the back and another single bed that was used as a sofa with a folding table across from the ice box, cook -top and cupboards. In the luggage space underneath was the big tent and sleeping bags for the older kids. He saved enough seats up front for this ever growing family. Nine of his children were on board for that excursion. We drove as far as Prince Rupert, Canada and then took a flight to Ketchikan….seems to me that there were two planes involved as we didn’t all fit in one. The local Chamber of Commerce heard we were coming and had a school bus waiting for us at the small airport!

My Dad hated driving in cities and sometimes on interstates when he missed an exit. One time he hired a taxi, put my mom in it and we followed as the driver took the best route to get us out of town.

the sisters celebrating someone’s 40th!

Another memorable trip was Washington, D.C. where we left the bus at the campsite and taxied into the city. We were all standing on a street corner trying to figure out what monument to see first when a big black limousine pulled over and the guy in the back inquired about our intentions. Obviously impressed with the size of our family he offered to take us all on a private tour of the city. What a day!

I’m ready to sign up!

There were only a few States I had not visited in my childhood so one of my first tasks when I retired was to fill in the map. With such a fortuitous upbringing it’s no wonder that I still dream of the next destination. And lucky me, other than the last six months, I am now pursuing countries with a goal of seeing every one!

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