A relaxing weekend

Our drinks at De La O

We started our weekend on Friday night by walking over to a bar called De La O Cantina. It is a pretty hip place with interesting drinks and tacos. One of the challenges we have found is that many of the places that we are planning visit do not have websites and/or have a Facebook page that doesn’t have a menu. De La O falls into the latter category. What is up with the Facebook pages? They are less than useful. This is a bit of a challenge for us as the food here is very meat focused (Good for me! Bad for Sue). Luckily De La O had vegetarian options and so it worked out. In addition to having interesting tequila drinks (the one at the right has fermented pineapple in it), they brought around a small batch agave drink that we think was called Mezcalito for us to taste. It was very good and when we go to Tequila next week, we will see if we can find it.

Saturday, we took an Uber to a little pueblito (small town) called Tlaquepaque that is on the outskirts of Guadalajara. It has a couple of very small ceramics museums, many street statues, pretty architecture, lots of places selling tourist stuff and, of course, the required Instagram sign. Every cute little tourist town is outwardly similar, but they all reflect the diverse culture of their areas.

We wandered around for a couple of hours just soaking up the sunshine and the vibe. Later in the afternoon, we headed for dinner at Restaurant Casa Luna (once again, just a Facebook page). They had their menu outside so we were sure we could find things we both like. The restaurant is housed in a courtyard with beautiful chandeliers and lots of hanging lanterns. The food was delicious and there was a band playing Mariachi music which made dinner incredibly pleasant.

During the week we signed up for the local bike share system called MiBici. Residents sign up and then use a credit card to unlock the bikes. For foreigners, the system allows you to buy the yearly subscription ($20) using an American credit card, however, it will not recognize the credit card to unlock the bike. The work around it is to get a metro card and link the metro card to the MiBici account. (We learned how to do it through this vlog. Thanks Kenta and Kenta’s friends.) It was actually pretty easy once we knew what to do and we got our cards on Thursday. Every Sunday, Guadalajara closes a fairly large number of streets to cars from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The lunch place in the market

We took advantage of the both the bike subscription and the closed streets to go for a ride. We headed straight north to a street market about a mile away. We wandered around the market, which to be honest was similar to every other street market in every other city we have visited: clothes, electronics, shoes and general kitchen crap was all on sale. We didn’t buy anything, but we do enjoy wandering through them. We decided to grab an early lunch at one of the market food stands. We quickly figured out that one had vegetarian options and we settled on a couple of stools and fumbled through our orders. We ordered something called huaraches. They are fried masa dough with ingredients piled on the top (Sue had mushrooms, I had beef). On the table were chopped onions, cucumbers and carrots, sprigs of parsley and basil and salsa. Once the food was delivered, you put whatever you want on top. It was good fun and cost just about $8. We do like street food.

After lunch we grabbed more bikes headed to the supermarket, shopped for the week and then ubered home.

Settling in to GDL

As my wise friend Sally just said, “You have to be adaptable to do what you’re doing.” She’s so right! As you know, Guadalajara was our consolation prize after Morocco shut down and we really didn’t know what to expect. Our first few days left us wondering if we had made a good choice. We just couldn’t get a grip on the city or where the center of things was. The grocery store near us is meh and we wandered a bit into a neighborhood that didn’t feel great. Plus, we’re on US time, so we were working during the day, which didn’t leave a lot of time for exploring.

Then, we had brunch with Kenta and Doug and everything started to fall into place. The grocery store near them is much nicer and they gave us some ideas of where to explore. We are wanderers and without an idea of where to roam, we were a little out of sorts. Plus, we wrapped our brains around the idea that we live here, as temporary as it may be. We’re not really tourists, so it’s OK that we’re not in touristaville surrounded by overpriced souvenirs.

We’re beginning to realize what a livable city this is (especially if you have US $$$$$$). Uber to the nice grocery store? $3. Delicious breakfast across the street at Pata de Elefante? $20 for two with tip. Stroll in the evening after work? 70+ degrees and taco stands everywhere.

Doug also explained to us the eating habits of Guadalajarans (and Mexicans in general, I think). Desayuno gets you started in the morning with a decent-size meal. The main comida is around 2-3:30 or so. Cena, in the evening after 7, is a light meal. Since we were eating our main meal around lunch anyway and then having salad for dinner, we have shifted to this. So far, so good.

To top it off, as we strolled the neighborhood, we stumbled upon Pasaje Yoga a few minutes walk from our place and attended a class last night. The Vinyasa flow kicked our butts (headstand and handstands with splits? I think not), but everyone was friendly and the yogi even translated instructions into English for us. (Gracias, Martín!) I understood a bit, but English definitely helped. We’ll be going back for sure and all the body parts in Spanish will be cemented in my brain. I already have perro arriba y perro abajo down although I doubt Martín will have me doing headstands anytime soon (the death marches of Istanbul have given way to the yoga torture of Mexico!).

After a week, we are starting to understand how we can live comfortably here. Sally is right. What really helped us was the adaptability. We are realizing that the first week in a new place is unsettling. (Duh! sometimes we’re not so smart.) This time may have even been a bit rougher because we hadn’t spent months anticipating and dreaming. A secondary factor is our schedule. In all our other wanderings we had the days free and didn’t start working until mid-afternoon (except when I was taking French classes). We had to recalibrate our daily schedule and expectations.

Now if I could just stop saying s’il vous plaît instead of por favor!

Our First Weekend

I didn’t realize that it has been nearly a month since I wrote a post. Many thanks to Sue for keeping everyone posted on our plans and travels. This is our first weekend in Guadalajara so we figured we should pack it full.

Friday night we decided to go out to eat, and quickly settled on sitting on the balcony of Casa Dolores, which is just across the street from our AirBnB. Sue picked out a sipping Tequila called Ollitas. It was sold in 60ml, 250ml and full bottle. We decided to share the 250ml bottle, which we figured was about 2 or so drinks each. It was very smooth and I would highly recommend it. (Please be aware that we will be taking a tequila tour in the next few weeks, so we may learn that we currently drinking the tequila equivalent of lighter fluid – so perhaps take this suggestion with a grain of salt). Sue had a fish dish that arrived on fire (literally in the literal sense of the word), while I had a very nice steak. I also ordered a dish called potatas arriero, which translates to potatoes muleteer. I had no idea what a muleteer was, but figured I couldn’t go too wrong. Turns out that they were fingerling potatoes is a spicy tomato sauce. It was a very enjoyable meal and we lingered well into the evening.

A section of the Mercado

 On Saturday morning we started by walking to Sue’s school (she will be taking an intensive Spanish course starting a week from Monday — because that way I can not really speak two different romance languages, capice?) which is in downtown Guadalajara, about 3km away. The mornings here are cool, maybe 15° C (60ish F), and we set off around 10am. We wandered in and out of the neighborhoods, taking note of places we wanted to eat, including the wonderfully named El Terrible Juan Cafe. We passed the Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento, unfortunately, we could not go inside as they were saying Mass. 

Watch out, dad joke ahead: Thought I would saddle you with this picture.

We continued to wander through the downtown and finally found our way to the Mercado Libertad – San Juan de Dios. It is a huge (40,000 m2) indoor marketplace. There is everything from kitchen utensils to electronics to clothes, fruit, vegetables, leather goods (including saddles!) and food. We either bravely or foolishly decided to eat at one of the food stalls. Sue ordered chilliquiles (Mom – click on the link to see what they are) and I ordered chicken enchiladas. We were both quite hungry, the food was good and as an extra bonus did not upset our stomachs.

After lunch started walking home and the temperature had reached into the mid-20’s, on the way, found a panaderia called El Abuelo. After a few minutes of confusion we figured out that we were supposed to grab a tray, pick out what we wanted and then take it to a counter. The nice young lady at the counter put them into bags and gave us a receipt. We took the receipt and paid a man who was in booth (about 2 steps away), who then signaled to the young lady that we had paid and gave us the bags. We bought to large rolls and three cookies. Total price was 43 pesos (by the way the symbol for peso is $ – very confusing!) or about 2 US dollars. The cookies were yummy!

On Sunday, Sue’s friend Kenta and his husband Doug invited us over for brunch. They live about 40 minutes walk north of us. It was the first time Sue had met Doug and the first time I had met either of them. We had a really great brunch with wonderful conversation. A special thank you to Doug for cooking. Delicious! After brunch we walked over the supermarket near them called Fresko that they recommended. It is much more like an American grocery store than we have found here (but according to Sue – it ain’t no Monoprix) so we loaded up on lots of stuff that we needed. We grabbed an Uber home and called it a day.

All in, we are happily getting settled in yet another new city.

Estamos en Guadalajara

I know we’ve said this before, but we are lucky! Yes, our Fes plans got scuttled, but we made it out of the U.S. after a month-long stay in sunny Florida.

Yesterday, we arrived in Guadalajara. We flew from Fort Lauderdale to Houston, where the plane was on time until 10 minutes to boarding and then … well, ya can’t fly with no crew. We saw CANCELED on one too many flights on the departure board and we were a tiny bit nervous. United said they were waiting for a crew and we chose to believe their really was one. And, there was! Clearly they are short-staffed because the poor gate agent was also acting as the wheelchair attendant, so boarding took a bit of time, but we arrived a mere 90-minutes late and breezed through immigration and customs.

The view from the gym. I dare say it’s a bit smoggy here, but nowhere close to Beijing.

(BTW: Everyone here wears a mask. Some people even wear them outdoors. There was no Covid protocol for entering Mexico, but we will have to get tested to get back into the U.S. Seems backwards to me since omicron is everywhere in the States, but what do I know?)

The only hiccup so far was the surprise on the immigration agents face when he asked (in Spanish) how long we would be here and I answered correctly in Spanish, 53 days. He obviously thought my Spanish was even worse than it really is. The same thing happened when I told the guard at the apartment building that we were staying until Feb. 25. He typed it into Google Translate and showed it to me to make sure I knew what I was saying (and looked even more surprised after she confirmed that it was correct).

So far, so good. We walked to the grocery store and got immediate supplies (coffee). The place itself is comfortable and I just got back from the gym on the 18th floor (our apartment is the 14th, so we have totally unobstructed view of the south part of the city and that big hill in Sue’s photo). Steven has been hard at work all day (of course). Not that I’m not working, but someone has to play housewife. Today, we bought some staple foods to have around and began to settle in.

Beer from Tomate Taquería

We are right at the edge of a popular bar and restaurant strip. We hit Tomate Taquería for dinner last night because it is only a few blocks away, but it was delicious! For Steven, there are huge spits of meat and for me, la especial vegetariana.

Luckily, we have a friend here (Kenta is fab!), which will ease the usual confusion over how to get a transportation card or where to find the best grocery store. All this happens within our first week in a new place and then it’s like we’re natives. Or natives who barely speak the language.

Speaking of language, I really need to up my Spanish game. I don’t understand why more people don’t speak English! Of course, they live in a huge country and it’s not like the EU, which uses English as a universal language. Maybe I will really learn Spanish!

We Have a Plan (or So We Think)

First things first or a moment of gratefulness: Thank you, Sandy, for generously allowing us to stay in your home in Florida when we were at loose ends. We had a few days of discombobulation, but sunshine and a comfortable working environment made a huge difference.

Well, loyal readers, you already know that we are headed to Guadalajara right after New Year’s. (Thanks, Kenta, for all your help and be aware that we aren’t joking when we say we’re going to stalk you!) This was kind of a slow burn because first we had to get over the disappointment of not getting to go back to Fez, but we have shifted gears and are revving up for Mexico. As if my poor brain wasn’t confused enough when I was learning French, I am now going to go back to learning Spanish. More intense language classes for me. (Espero que la maestra no dé demasiada tarea. How’s that for a start?)

Apparently there’s lots of delicious food and maybe a little bit of tequila there. Luckily, we are staying in a fancy building with a gym, so we can burn it all off. We are looking forward to immersing ourselves in another culture — one we hadn’t really thought about. Semi-planned (I don’t even have a Guadulajara spreadsheet yet!) adventures have their own joys. We’re just figuring out what we want to do and need to see while we’re there, so if you want to help us out, we’d love it.

The next big piece of news is that we booked an AirBnB in Rome for March and April. We did our usual hunting: I am cheap and pick a bunch of places whose prices don’t give me heart palpitations and then one or two that I think are a tad on the high side. Steven rejects all but the ones on the high side and then I let him decide whether it’s worth it. Guess what he thinks? I’ll give you a hint: “The guy does our laundry? That would be nice!” Steven said (am I wrong???).

We have also come to the conclusion that we’re better off on the fringes of touristaville for long stays because we need daily living conveniences like a supermarket we can walk to. We’re fine with a bit longer of a walk or nearby subway station to get to sites. Our 18-day stay in Istanbul was about as long as we care to stay in the midst of the fray.

So, we will be in Rome for Easter week barring another Covid disaster (or something else we definitely don’t want to guess at) (Next year in Mecca for the Eid?). Good thing we don’t mind a crowd.

Always Remember to Stay Flexible

Me, thinking about our plans for the next few months.

I would like to report that we are spending our time in Florida visiting all the cultural and historic sites, but well, it is Florida, so not so much. Instead, we are working, visiting with my mother and obsessing over our next move.

Today we made quite a bit of progress. We abandoned our goal of spending a few months in Fez.  The Moroccan government has closed the country’s borders until the new year, and we decided that it was not worth waiting and hoping that they would re-open. Instead, we have decided to go to Guadalajara, Mexico, from Jan 3rd through February 25th.

Somewhat surprisingly, there is a cathedral in Guadalajara.

Why Guadalajara? Excellent question. First, it is warm and that is a pretty big draw for me. Second, it is a city and so we will be able to explore the culture and history of Mexico. We considered Mexico City, but decided that Guadalajara is a bit more manageable. Third, it seems like there are lots of things nearby for us to see and do. Finally, Sue has a friend who lives there and he gave the city high marks.

We are still planning on going to Italy for March and April. Sue’s brother and sister-in-law are celebrating an anniversary by going to Italy at in the beginning of March and we are going to meet them in Rome. We will all spend a few days in Rome and then we are planning to head south the Sorrento for the rest of the month. Once again, it is warm; we can spend our time exploring Pompeii, Herculaneum and Capri. April, we plan to head north, probably to Tuscany. That should allow us to spend the weekends traveling throughout northern Italy. However, since we have not booked places to stay in either of these places, both are subject to change.

We are still planning on returning to the US in early May, so while we had hoped to get to both London and Amsterdam, those places may be on hold for now.

The S & S Lemonade Company

We are working hard to make lemonade from the lemons we have been given. Last week, we had the next six months all planned. One week in Barcelona, three months in Fez, a month and a half in Rome and then a couple of weeks in Amsterdam. Then COVID reared its ugly head again and handed us a bunch of lemons. Morocco closed its borders for a minimum of 14 days beginning the 28th of November, the US added travel restrictions, and the EU seemed to be getting increasing jittery about travelers.

Our original plan was to fly from New York to Barcelona on the 1st of December, then on to Morocco on the 7th. When Morocco closed, we changed our plan by re-booking our flight to Morocco for the 14th and found a new AirBnB for the (now) two weeks in Barcelona. On the 30th of November we drove up to New York for a business dinner and then had lunch on the 1st with my aunt and uncle. During lunch we found out that our flight to Fez on the 14th was canceled and that all the flights to Fez were canceled for the entire month.

We now had two choices. First, take our flight to Barcelona and hope that Morocco re-opened on the 12th, and that the flights would be re-instituted. Second, cancel our flights to Barcelona and all our AirBnB’s and then figure out a new plan. Our decision was made either easier or complicated because we only had about 17 days left for our Schengen zone visa and we really do not want to overstay.  

After a long walk and a discussion, we decided to postpone the trip. Sue got in touch with Delta and cancelled our flights to Barcelona (which were leaving in about 4 hours). We had already checked out of our hotel, so we made a reservation at 50 Bowery, where we stayed back in May. Once we checked in, we worked on a short-term plan. We let our families know that the trip was on hold and as they always do, they rallied round and offered us any assistance we would need. My mother, ever resourceful and for some reason, wanting to see us again; convinced one of her friends to lend us her condo until the end of December as it was going to be empty until the New Year.

Once that was settled, everything else fell into place. In the morning, we rented a car and drove to my sister’s house where we collected our trusty 2006 Saab 93 convertible (Quote of the day is from our brother in law: A wise person would take the Prius (our other car) to Florida, but I assumed you would take the Saab – he knows us so well!) On Friday morning, we drove to our storage locker and swapped our cool weather clothes for warm weather gear. We stayed last night at my son’s house in Baltimore (and just happened to spend a little bit of time with our granddaughter). This morning we headed down 95 for the first 800 miles of the trip. Nine hours later, we are comfortably seated in our hotel in Brunswick, Georgia. Tomorrow we will do the last 400 miles and then settle in for the month.

What will the new year bring? We don’t know. Our plan is see if Morocco opens up before year end. If it does, we will likely resurrect a slightly shorter version of the original trip. If not, then perhaps we will head to someplace warm for the rest of the winter. Costa Rica, Belize or Martinique all seem like possibilities, or perhaps somewhere in South America.

We promise to keep you posted. In the meantime, I want to sign off with two thoughts: First, we are incredibly grateful to everyone in our families who offered us food, lodging, support and any assistance we might need without a second thought. Second, we were forcefully reminded that we need to be flexible. If Morocco isn’t in the cards for this year, then something else will be. No point in trying to swim upstream, we will just go with the flow.

I will add one more thing: We know that we are lucky in that we can afford to spend another night in a hotel in New York and take a bit of a loss on our AirBnB. We have flexibility partly because we have resources.

Oh, the Drama

We’ve been a little quiet this past week because we were fitting in four months of social activity into two weeks. Friends, family, Chicago to Baltimore, Thanksgiving, with lots of lunches and dinners and even a bit of work sandwiched in. But, we’re on the road again, complete with the latest Covid drama.

We’re hoping to get back to Morocco. This is from our 2017 trip.

Yesterday, our very communicative and kind Fes AirBnB host told us that Morocco was suspending all flights in and out as of today because of Omicron. Yes, we were supposed to be headed to Morocco in less than two weeks. December 7 to be exact. Hmmm, what to do?

Steven and I have worked out a pretty good system for decision-making, I may patent it:

  • Step 1: Ask, “What are you thinking?”
  • Step 2: Listen to answer.
  • Step 3: State your opinion.
  • Step 4: Go back-and-forth on the merits of different plans.
  • Step 5: Confuse the matter by saying, “How about this?” or “Did we consider that?”
  • Step 6: Say, “I think we should do this.”
  • Step 7: Person 2 says, “Me too.”
  • Step 8: Accept that everything will cost more than you want it to.
  • Step 9: Execute plan.
  • Step 10: Stop thinking about plans you opted out of.

So, that is what we did. We waited for Ryan Air to cancel our flight (didn’t want to pay a chance fee but Steven chatted with them and they said they would email when the cancellation became official) and then re-booked the same flight for a week later.

Our new plan is to stay an extra week in Barcelona. (Oh the pity!) (Oh the things we do just so you, our dear readers, can sit at home and live vicariously through our foolishness,) Our ears on the ground in Fes (that’s our AirBnB host) says that the scuttlebutt is that the ban won’t last longer than the original two weeks because Morocco doesn’t want to miss the holiday tourist season. Fingers crossed.

For those of you asking if we are worried about Covid, the answer is no. Morocco doesn’t want us there because they have a low infection rate, well lower than that in the United States. You can argue that we have a higher testing rate, although I don’t know if that is true or not. All I know is that since we have been here, I have seen more unmasked faces in indoor, public spaces (including food-service workers and pharmacy assistants) than I saw in France or Turkey. And, in those places you had to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to get into public places such as restaurants or museums. Restaurants also (mostly) required proof of vaccination. Given all that, we believe the risk of travel is really no worse than the risk of staying here.

We’ll keep you posted. If we can’t get into Morocco, we may be looking for a place to stay at a guest bedroom near you. 🙂

Back in the US, Back in the US, Back in the US…not USSR

I know that I missed our last blog post on Sunday and as penance, Sue is making me write this one. The past week has been pretty quiet. Last Friday morning, we flew from Nice to Paris, and despite our intention of going into the city for the afternoon, we ended up just sitting around the hotel for the day and watching terrible movies (think Frozen 2). We ate both lunch and dinner in the hotel and were just totally lazy.

Saturday, we flew from Paris to Chicago. The flight was easy and while long, it was very non-eventful. I highly recommend upgrading to the seats that fit an actual adult-size human if you can. Plus, free wine. Unfortunately, on the way out of the airport we saw white, flaky stuff falling from the sky. While my first thought was to turn around and get on a plane anywhere south, we persevered. A quick side note – prior to leaving on our wanderings, we sent a box of warm clothes to our host in Chicago. When we sent them in July it was mid 80s Fahrenheit (30ish Celsius) and we both thought we were sending stuff that would be way to warm…HAHAHA… boy were we wrong. Today’s high temperature is expected to be 28° Fahrenheit (2° C).

We spent Saturday evening with friends and got take out from Libanais, our favorite Lebanese restaurant. Since then it has been a whirlwind of visiting with friends and family. We are, of course, working this week and it is somewhat odd having to wake up in the morning in order to have meetings.  😉

Sorry the post is so short, just not much to report. But I thought I would leave you with a video of the Mediterranean from last full day in Nice

Au revoir Nice (pour l’instant)

Today is our last full day in Nice. I know, you’re feeling really sorry for us right now. Your heart will bleed when you realize we are toying with the idea of taking the train into Paris tomorrow once we land at De Gaulle. Our flight arrives at 11:15 a.m. and we don’t fly out until Saturday afternoon, so pourquoi pas? We are staying at an airport hotel and that just doesn’t sound like much fun.

This morning we had petit dejeuner on the beach. The Mediterranean waves were kicking up and it was lovely. I always find it difficult to say goodbye, even if it’s just to a place. Today we will pack up, making sure our suitcases are no more than 23 kilos apiece (thank you Michael for schlepping a bag of stuff home for us).

Yesterday was the day of truth. You probably know (since I have already ranted about it) Covid tests to return to the States. Since we are vaccinated, we could get them up to three days out, and we decided to do it as soon as possible just in case. After a bit of a brain tickle, we both came up negative, so we are travel ready according to United Airlines. Woo hoo! After that, we headed over to the Musée de Photographie. It featured exhibits by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, an environmental activist is known for his aerial photos, but who started his career documenting the lives of a family of lions. We loved it. In the gallery next door, we were reminded of how (rightly I believe) the the human rights record of the United States is viewed in other counties, through an exhibit of photos by Florent Meng that depicted the toll on humanity of U.S. border policies. The photos were taken in the desert at and around the border between Sonora, Mexico, and Arizona.

In case you were desperate for another Mediterranean Sea pic, here you go. You’re welcome.

After lunch Wednesday, Steven sat down at the computer to work and I went for a wander in the rain. Mostly I was drinking it all in, taking some more photos and enjoying the sound of the sea.

Happy (and lucky)

We also had our final salad, baguette and wine dinner Wednesday night. We will definitely miss the bread, the wine and the sea. We were very comfortable here. It’s familiar enough that we can figure out how to get things done and our pitiful French usually elicited English in return (although sometimes we asked for French for practice). I would say we have acquired enough French to successfully shop and order at a restaurant (mostly).

It’s going to be weird to be in a place where everyone speaks English, we keep saying to each other. Won’t it be nice to ask a question and get an answer we understand at least for a couple of weeks. I am hoping to really get to improve my French in Morocco, where their fourth (!) language is English.