Tag Archives: travel

Survived the Carpet & Leather TimeShare Experience. Oh by the way, I’m in Morocco…

Held hostage for an hour or so by carpet baggers. Literally, they do bag carpets!

Becky let me know people wondered why no diary entries lately, like maybe I’d died in-transit to Morocco. No, not at all. The usual excuse would be that I’ve been too busy, and in fact I have had to devote a fair amount of time to getting some marketing stuff figured out and running while here in Morocco. But mostly it’s because I put a lot of stuff up on Facebook, which is easy to do on your phone, instead of the website, which is a paint in the butt from anything but a regular computer. And by the time we get back to the room after being out “touring” all day, there’s not much time or energy left!

But I’ll attach a bunch of photos here so you can see what we’ve (my wife and I) have been up to. In a nutshell-

Monday evening- Caught a train from Redwood City to SFO, then flew SFO-Munich, 2hrs on the ground, then Munich to Madrid.

Tuesday night- We arrived Madrid about 11pm so no time for much of anything but crash.

Wednesday morning- the plan (remember, there’s always a plan) was to head into Madrid and see… something… anything… since we were, of course, in… Madrid! Our flight didn’t leave until 2:30pm. But we first woke up too early, went back to sleep, and didn’t get up again until a bit past 8 and, well, we were still tired and had a lot more coming up, so we bailed on heading into town. Besides, we were flying Madrid to Rabat (Morocco) on Ryan Air, and I wasn’t absolutely convinced we wouldn’t suffer some “gotcha” that would cause us to have to pay a small fortune if we didn’t do everything just right.

The infamous Ryan Air visa stamp check office.

So we head to the airport just a bit over three hours ahead of our flight, because, well, that’s what they tell you to do, I’d never flown out of Madrid, and I’d never flown Ryan Air. Turned out two hours would have been fine. Almost nobody in line at the Ryan Air checkin counter. The main potential “gotcha” was that you had to get a visa stamp check, and there was nothing that looked like a visa stamp check place in the direction the lady kindly motioned.

Now here’s the important thing to know. If we hadn’t been checking bags, there would have been nobody telling us about this requirement, nor pointing in its direction. This is where Ryan Air newbies get tripped up. You cannot get on your flight if you don’t have this stamp (assuming you’re not from an EU country, I should point out). You will have to go back through security, miss your flight, pay a huge fee to get the next flight… fun!

The flight itself was fine. Weird flying an airline whose in-flight literature brags about their 94%+ seat fill rate, as if it’s something you, as a passenger, would appreciate.

Once in Rabat there was no issue clearing security, ATM right at the airport for getting the local currency (Dirham), and the cabs? What cabs. You’d normally have cabs in front of an airport, right? I’d already researched things and new about the government-fixed cab rate into town (150 Dirhams, about $18), but nothing mentioned any difficulty finding an actual cab. Instead you get this guy in an orange “Cab Service” vest who may or may not be an official cab person, who takes your bag(s) and walks you a very long distance to a far corner of the parking lot where there are maybe 15 white cabs of varying vintage (none newer than 10 years, most 2 or even 3 times that) and consistently bad shape. And of course the fare is 300 Dirhams, not 150.

Oh, and language is an issue. English is not universal in this part of the world, and for these cab drivers, Arabic was used instead of French (French is nearly as common as Arabic everywhere in Morocco…except these cabs at the airport). I tell him it should be 150 and he just says no. 150. No. I decide OK, 200 would be reasonable, we’ll go for 200. He keeps holding out for 300. I tell him no, we’ll go elsewhere. Eventually he settles for 200. And yes, I was using Google Maps the whole way to the hotel, making sure we weren’t heading the wrong way so we might be held hostage until we paid more to get to the right place.

We’re heading into Saturday night/Sunday morning right now, and a lot’s gone on (nothing bad) while we’ve been here, but don’t have the time right now to do all the updates. But I will post the same photos I’ve put up on FB, so  you can get some idea of what the place is like.  –Mike–

We made it! Home away from home in France

This is why France is so cool. What cyclist can’t relate to roadside signs advertising PAIN?

The long travel day over, a decent night’s sleep and we’re almost ready to go. Well, more on that later.

Thursday morning we got up much earlier than anyone but a true morning person would want to, and trust me, I’m not even a good fake morning person. 5:45am, quick shower, out the door headed to the airport by 6:09, just 4 minutes behind schedule. Flight at 8:05am, and you’d normally think that arriving at the airport at 6:40am for an 8:05 flight should give you a lot of extra time, but it really didn’t.

Pleasant-enough flight to Newark, other than both the wi-fi and entertainment system being down, and this was an otherwise “dark” plane, with no seatback screens. Flying transcon is a long way to go without being connected or having a dumb movie to watch! Kevin, of course, used some of the time to sleep.

Check out the young lady apparently checking out Kevin who’s checking out her…

In Newark Kevin and I both had our very first “Philly Cheesesteaks.” Not sure what all the fuss is about. I mean sure, not bad, but not that much different from an Arby’s y’know? The Newark airport is a lont nicer since the remodel, but they’ve hidden the temporary United Club (lounge). The food court is a bit confusing too; one of those setups where you pay for food (and anything else, including, for example, magazines) separately from where you order or pick it up. There’s no signage, and nobody tells you when you order the food, until you look appropriately confused. That’s actually not true. A very nice employee did assist me, and other confused people, regarding how things work, and did so without making us seem like idiots.

First-time ever landing with view of Paris instead of fields. And the ugly Montparnasse tower!

The flight to Paris was better in terms of working wi-fi and entertainment system (“Blockers” is a better movie than it should be, by the way). Still, you felt OK at the beginning and start to feel a bit “ripe” towards the end. Would be nice to have showers at CDG for sure, but we didn’t have time to do the 2-hour room thing at the nearby IBIS, because we weren’t sure how long it would take to retrieve our rail discount cards at the CDG train station. Too bad because that meant way too much time waiting at a really inadequate train station. Funny thing how trains in France are for the most part a fantastic way to get around, but major train stations are abominable places to have to spend time, with limited seating, few bathrooms (which you have to pay for, by the way), too hot, too humid… just not fun places to be. Same can be said for most major stations around France (Lyon, Montparnasse in Paris, Marseille).

The connection in Bordeaux was not much fun, since we arrived 10 minutes late and our connection time was… 10 minutes! Fortunately they were hold other trains for ours, at least it seemed that way, so we made it. Should mention that the train from CDG to Bordeaux felt a bit dated and not terribly fast. The Bordeaux-Lourdes train was much newer, had wi-fi that actually worked (good luck trying to get a decent cell signal from a high-speed train moving through the countryside) and the temp was bit cooler as well.

Getting off the train in Lourdes, happy that our very long travel “day is over.

Arrival in Lourdes, well, about time. Long day, nice to see our hotel right after exiting the train station, same as it ever was. We’ve used this place for a number of years now. Inexpensive (about $75/night), fairly large room for France, mini-kitchen with fridge, elevator large enough for both our bikes at once, coin-op laundry, what’s not to like? No daily made service but I don’t need the bed made every night (good thing, that, since if I did, my wife would be asking why I’m not doing it myself).

Immediately outside the station and there it is, our hotel, with a much-needed shower waiting for us!

Eventually we got around to dinner (favorite pizza place 100 meters from the hotel) and I used what consciousness I had left to build the bikes. I managed to successfully stay awake long enough to guarantee I’d actually sleep and wake up at a reasonable hour (11pm-6:40am). Would have liked to have slept a bit longer, but this was good enough to get me onto France time.

The plan for today was to initially head out on the bikes into town and pick up some supplies and breakfast, before going out for a moderate ride. That plan was shelved because the time change did a number on Kevin’s epilepsy med schedule; any deviation from the norm can give him double-vision and that’s what he got this morning. So got to head out myself to get breakfast and let Kevin try to sleep off the effects of his meds. The new plan is to head out around 2pm or so (an hour from now), get in a ride, and pick up supplies on the way back. We’ll see how that goes soon!