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
Sue and I had a busy week with work and all, so we decided to spend this weekend doing nothing. We woke up late, sat around drinking coffee and watched TV for three full days.
Friday our plan was to have street food for lunch, then head for the Dolmabahçe Palace, then walk over to the Ortaköy Mosque and finish the day off with kumpir (potatoes stuffed with all sorts of interesting things) that you buy street vendors near the mosque.
We relaxed a bit in the morning, and then headed down the big hill to grab lunch. Sue had a takeout balık ekmek (fish sandwich) from a place right on the Karaköy pier and I grabbed a chicken dürüm (a chicken wrap), which we sat on a stone wall overlooking the straits and ate. Yummy.
We rode the tram to the Dolmabahçe Palace, which was simply amazing. It is huge and while it was only completed in the 19th century, so it isn’t old, what it lacks in age it makes up with splendor. You are not allowed to take photos in the palace (seems a little odd that taking pictures in mosques is OK, but not in the palace). (Also, I think we were the only ones following that rule.) It is situated right on the Bosporus Straits and views are incredible. My uncle David would describe the décor as early French brothel, but I would be a bit more generous and say it was decorated fashionably for the time. The chandeliers are incredible. The tour also includes the Harem; which I always thought was only for the women. In reality it is the private quarters of the Sultan, his wives, concubines and his mother. It was pretty amazing and along with everything else there is an audio tour that is well worth getting.
Once we had finished poking around, we headed to the Ortaköy mosque. Sue’s friend, Dana, recommended seeing the mosque, which is also built on the waterfront, and then eating kumpir from one of the food stands. We figured it was only a “short” 3km walk so we thought it would be a nice stroll along the waterfront. The walk was nice, but like everywhere in Istanbul, it was very crowded. We arrived at the mosque at about 5. .pm, went inside for a quick look and then decided to have a drink and a short rest. We bought freshly squeezed pomegranate juice from a stand outside the mosque and sat down on a bench. Neither of us was particularly hungry but the next thing on our agenda was to eat kumpir. We wandered around the town for an hour or so and then decided to head back to the AirBnB. We just weren’t hungry enough to eat and there didn’t seem to be a good reason to stick around for another hour or so.
Our plan was to catch a ferry. We had looked at the schedule the day before and planned taking a ferry from Ortaköy to Karaköy (which is just down the hill from our AirBnB). Unfortunately, we apparently misunderstood the directions because no such ferry existed. We put our heads back into our Trafi App (the official Istanbul public transit app) and found we could go from Ortaköy across the straits to the Asian side and stop in Üsküdar, then transfer to a ferry from Üsküdar to Karaköy. We smiled, knowing we had solved the problem and got on the ferry to Üsküdar. Once there we asked about the ferry to Karaköy; only to be told it was not running. We had somehow misread or misunderstood the directions. A very gruff, but nice man who was working the ferries, told us to wait for about 45 minutes and then there would be another ferry. Another ferry guy told us that there was a different Karaköy so we walked over to that, once again, to find that it was not running. But there was a ferry leaving for Eminönü in 20 minutes. Eminönü is just across the bridge from Karaköy. So we hopped that ferry, walked across the bridge and by the time we got back home, it was 8:30 so we headed out for dinner.
One day, 10.6 miles and the equivalent of walking up 65 flights of stairs. Whew.
Saturday we decided to only go to two places. First a museum call the Sakıp Sabanci Museum and then on the way home, we were going to stop at the Rumeli Fortress. Once again, we examined our trusty(?) Trafi app and determined that the only way to get to the museum would be to take a bus. We headed to the bus stop and waited. The bus we were supposed to be on did not arrive at all, so we grabbed another that would get us as far as Ortaköy. We quickly amended our plans, and decided that once we were in Ortaköy we would grab lunch. Sue could have kumpir (the loaded potatoes that we wanted to try) and I would have another dürüm, this time with lamb. My potato was delicious!
Once lunch was finished, we waited for the next bus. Once again, the one we wanted didn’t arrive, but another one that would take us to the museum did after about 15 minutes. Back on the bus and after about a 30-minute ride, we reached the museum. It was great. Sue enjoyed the art and furnishings, while I found the rooms on calligraphy fascinating. We somehow thought it was going to be small because it is associated with a university, but it was large and on beautiful grounds.
After a couple of hours in the museum we decided to walk about 30 minutes to the fortress. The walk was really pleasant. It was mostly flat (YAY!) and along the waterfront. The fort was the first incursion by the Ottoman Empire into Europe. It was built in 1452 in order to facilitate the siege of Constantinople. Amazingly it was built over a four-month period and it is situated in the narrowest point of the straits. The ramparts and towers were closed for renovations, but we wandered the gardens and climbed up to the top of the inside of the fort. The views over the straits were amazing.
Once we had our fill of the fort, we mapped our way home. We had two choices. First option: two buses that would take an hour and 10 minutes, if they came on time and if we managed to get on the right ones. Second option: 20 minute walk to the Metro then a 30-minute Metro ride. Seems like a pretty easy choice. HAHAHAHA! Well what Google did not bother to tell us was that the 15-minute walk was – you guessed it – uphill – all uphill – 400 feet vertical climb over 2km. The least steep portions were the stairs. As Sue led us on our latest death march, I reminded myself that I chose this option – and that I should check to make sure my life insurance was paid up. We finally reached the top of the hill, found the Metro and (I at least) collapsed into (my) seat.
Another 6.5 miles and 57 flights of stairs.
Sunday we really did decide to take it easy. We walked down the hill just so we could ride the funicular up to the top. We had lunch and then walked to the Dervish museum. It was well done, as all the museums we have been to here have been. We learned about the history of the Dervish and the philosophy. Once we finished that we avoided the draw of wandering through the adjacent cemetery and headed home for the day. Steven neglects to mention that we also decided to get some snacks for our upcoming plane ride even though Turkish Airways actually feeds passengers and we ended up with enough dried fruit and nuts to see us through getting back home in November.
This was our first weekend in Clamecy. Like so many of our weekends we crammed it full of things to do and see.
We started the weekend with a quiet Friday night. A light dinner and then we attempted to improve our French by watching Independence Day in French. News flash…It is a terrible movie even if you can’t understand the dialog (which we couldn’t) and even if they dubbed everyone’s voices with people who didn’t really sound very much like them. (I didn’t know Will Smith could speak French!) Anyway, we also used the time to plan next weekend’s activities, which we will talk about next week!
Saturday morning we went to market (which is about 20 feet from our front door), to look around and pick up a few things. I bought olives and Sue bought some very interesting looking mushrooms – which I do not believe are poisonous as we ate them for lunch and as of this moment (18:00), I have not started to vomit or hallucinate. (They were chanterelles or girolles here.)
After our quick shop, we headed out to a very nice little hilltop village called Vézelay. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and has an abbey that I believe was started sometime in the 13th Century. The town was very nice, but a bit touristy (even in the off-season). We parked in the municipal parking and there were about 10 Porsche 911s and while we were waiting to pay, their owners arrived and they all drove off in a pack (I know that a group of crows is a murder and a group of wolves is a pack…Is a group of Porsche’s called a Pretender of Porsches, or perhaps a Poseur of Porsches? Anyway – there were a bunch of them there and then they drove off).
We wandered the town, Sue took many photos of the town and the countryside. We bought a couple of quiches at one of the boulangeries and had a picnic lunch. Once we were done we headed off to do some wine tasting…It is Burgundy (well, actually, it is Bourgogne) you know! We stopped at four or five different places, but only one was open. We had a few tastes, bought a few bottles and were on our way.
Along the way, we stumbled upon a village called Saint Père. There was a winery there, but it was unfortunately closed when we arrived. However, there was a gorgeous old church in this tiny village. The construction started in 1240 and completed around 1455. While the abbey of Vézelay is much larger and more physically impressive, the beauty and accessibility of the church in Saint Père made it more interesting to me.
Heading back to the car we saw a historic marker signed that said Les Fontaines Salées. We were in no hurry, so we figured we would drive over to it, not bothering to translate what Les Fontaines Salées meant. It was only a couple of kilometers, so what did we have to lose? Boy are we glad we did. It is an archeological museum dedicated to the prehistoric and Roman period salt water springs and baths. It was fabulous. They had a museum explaining the history; sure it was in French, but we had the time to read and translate the important stuff. Then we could wander among the ruins and soak up the history. (Also, there were frogs in the water.)
When we finished, we took a long route back to the AirBnB and had dinner. Our friend Suzanne told us about a restaurant called La Guinguette in a nearby village that was having a DJ playing Afro-Carribean music with a drummer. We picked her up and headed over. The night was warm, the beer was cold (at least mine was – the ladies had wine) and the music was great. The video is Sue dancing with the owner (who our friend knows).
All in all a great day.
Sunday we lounged about most of the morning, went for a small wander in Clamecy and then headed for the D’arcy Grottos with Suzanne (who took us through the backroads where we got to see some beautiful scenery and more cute French villages). There are a series of caves that have stalagmites, stalactites and prehistoric cave paintings. (I believe that they are the second oldest cave paintings in France.) We drove through the countryside, taking a long, windy way to get there, but the trip was well worth it. Only one of the caves is open to the public, but it is very impressive, and the paintings are somewhat unreal.
After the visiting the cave, we wandered along the River Cure for an hour or so and then headed back to the AirBnB.
Another great weekend, this one without dead person bingo (although we did see at least two cemeteries). 😉
As our faithful readers know (thank you, Judie), we are heading out on a grand adventure. So many details to consider and what feels like so little time. I let Steven do most of the thought-spinning since he is so good at it, especially in the middle of the night (I practice two hours a night every night, whether I need it or not). But I am not completely immune. Mostly I am really excited and am trying not to look past the summer, which is going to be a lot of fun amid the packing the house up again.
And speaking of packing (like that segue? Smooth, huh? My wife has the smoothest of moves!), I have been puzzling over what to pack. The weather will be what I consider warmish fall (high 50s to maybe 70), so no winter coat. BUT, then we fly directly back to Chicago in November, so winter coat for me for sure. Hey Chicago friends, want to lend me a winter coat (and a hat, gloves, mittens, long underwear and hand and foot warmers)?
The chart below shows what we’re trying to avoid. We will probably end up paying $100 for a third bag between the two of us … but maybe not. Look at all the money the corporate jackals are making off your inability to wear the same shoes two days in a row!
I have read many travel blogs and websites on tips for packing light. They pretty much all come down to this: Wear the same clothes over and over, wear your hiking boots instead of packing them (and its corollary: No more than three pairs of shoes) and hope your hotel/AirBnB/host has toiletries. If you must bring cold weather gear, buy backpacking-friendly, lightweight clothes. Remember the limit is, 22 kilos, which is less than 50 pounds. Jeans are heavy, sweaters are bulky, packing cubes give you space to pack more weight, so they’re not good.
Luckily, I’m not a fashion snob, so I’m OK with a few pairs of hiking pants, one pair of jeans and a semi-decent dress (I prefer her indecent dresses) just in case. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself. We will be putting the clothes in the front of the storage unit so we can refresh before heading to Morocco after our Thanksgiving in the States. That gives us a bit of wiggle room if we find we have packed all wrong (or because I will be bored with my five shirts).
My current clothing packing list looks like this:
5 pairs of underwear
5 bras (including jog bra)
5 pairs of socks
1 pair of running shoes that doubles as an everyday shoe
1 decent pair of shoes just in case
1 pair of jeans
3 pairs of convertible hiking pants
1 pair of Under Armour in case the hiking pants are too light and to double as pjs if it’s chilly
5 cotton, long sleeve shirts
1 sleep shirt
I will need some contact lenses and a few other toiletry items, but they have pharmacies in France.
So, that’s kind of what I’m telling Steven but … I really have a secret plan. (I guess the concept of a secret from Steven eludes her since she is writing it in the blog.) I know he will read this blog, but I am counting on his failing memory. I am going to bring an empty suitcase and buy everything I need in France and Morocco. Let’s face it, it’s not the best to stand out as an American. It’s going to be tough enough with my two months of Duolingo French (Je habite à Clamecy; Je parle français un peu), I don’t need my wardrobe to make it worse. Besides, I plan on working maybe 20 hours a week, unless I get ambitious, so I have to find something to fill my time. Vintage shopping sounds like a great way to kill some time and practice my French.
We are continuing to make plans and knock items off the to do list. This week has been, for lack of a better term, workmanlike….oh god…sorry Sue…workPERSONlike. 😉 (Finally, my positive influence sinks in.)
We are grappling with a list of necessary, but fairly uninteresting, things we will need to arrange while we are away. We need a place for our mail to be sent and a place for our cars and stuff to be stored; we need to order power converters, find movers and research local phone plans. All of which are to a greater or lesser degree being moved forward.
For the French portion of the trip, we have been looking at all the secondary arrangements such as car rental, place to stay in Paris for our final weekend, transport between Clemacy and Nice and then Nice to Paris. Sue is trawling through a bunch of guidebooks that we borrowed from the library looking for interesting things in Burgundy [apparently we can go wine tasting…who knew ;-)], and on the Côte D’Azur (I would like to digress for a moment to whine about WordPress…They introduced new editing software which has removed non-English letters such as ô from our version. So when I want to use characters with an accent, I have to go Word, insert the character and then copy it into WordPress. I hate when software upgrades remove useful features – especially when the feature is then re-released as a paid for upgrade – sorry about that digression. (No, I am really disliking the latest WordPress version. Try someone else, if you ask me. It seems less intuitive and less user-friendly.) Somewhat surprisingly, wine tasting is also available near Nice!
We decided to rent a car for the month we are in Clamecy, as we will be pretty isolated and we want to be able to take day/weekend trips (remember – wine tasting is available). I checked all the normal sites and found reasonable pricing, but, as always with rental cars, insurance and additional drivers are extra. Those two requirements nearly doubled the price of the car. The French government has a program that allows auto manufacturers to provide new cars on rental periods of 21 days or more, tax free to non-EU residents. This is the link to the Renault information on the program which is called Temporary Transit. The program provides brand new cars, includes all insurance, allows multiple drivers and does not charge to drop the car off in a different location from where it was rented.
Our original plan for traveling from Clamecy to Nice was to drive back to Paris, drop off the car and then fly to Nice. However, the flights to Nice (including our expected luggage) and the car pricing have us thinking we will drive. It looks to be an 8-hour drive, which is significantly longer than the 1-hour flight, but once you add in traveling back to DeGaulle, getting to the airport early, and my time insanity, it seems like it will be a couple of hours longer to drive, but not as big of a difference as one would expect. We are considering stopping for one night somewhere along the way just to get in a bit of touring.
We are planning on taking the train from Nice back to Paris on Nov. 12. We think it might be good fun to watch the countryside roll by from the south of France. I think it is about a 6-hour journey, but the train schedule and tickets are not yet available. Sue found a nice AirBnb in Paris for our last weekend (Nov. 12-16). It is in the 10th arrondissement on Faubourg Fishmonger street (I think Sue is sending me a message. I won’t add the message here; it’s subliminal). It is a ground-floor studio which means we won’t have to haul our luggage up any stairs, and that makes me very happy.
We also decided that on our way to Fez in December, we would stop for a few days in Barcelona. One of the challenges of going to Fez is that the flights only run on certain days of the week. Tuesday and Thursday gave us the most flights. We found that the cheapest nonstop route from the U.S. that would connect to Fez is through Barcelona. Once we knew that, we figured we might as well stay there for a few days and see the city. (It is high on my really-want-to-visit list.) We found a nice AirBnB near to Las Ramblas and booked it.
The extended trip now looks like:
Aug. 30: Fly to Paris
Aug.31: Arrive in Paris, rent car and drive to Clemacy
Oct. 1: Drive to Nice
Nov. 12: Train to Paris
Nov. 16: Fly to Chicago
Nov. 22: Fly to Baltimore
Nov. 30: Fly to Barcelona
Dec. 6: Fly to Fez
Mar. 6 (ish): Go to somewhere else (Roma, Barcelona, Greece, Amsterdam…who knows?) (All ideas welcome!)
We have made our first significant change to our plan (remember when I said our plans were firmly set in Jello?). We, like the French in World War 2 have abandoned Paris. We were persuaded by two factors: First, the weather will be pretty nasty in October and November — cold, damp, wet. If we wanted that, we would go to London, where you can get it all year round. Second, we could not find an AirBnB or other short term rental that really seemed to fit us. Everything had drawbacks, and we seemed to constantly be compromising to fit ourselves into expensive places, none of which really fit.
Our solution? Let’s go to the Côte D’Azur! We looked first at some places in Provence, but in the end, the draw of reasonably warm weather, a beach and an interesting city has drawn us to Nice. We spent a couple of days looking at tour books and making an outline of what we would like to be near. Then onto the short-term rental sites for places to live. We found a very nice two bedroom just outside the old part of the city and after a bit of back and forth about the price and whether it was suitable, we booked it. Boom! Done.
Here are a few photos of our place:
We have also started to deal with some of the more mundane issues. At least we are making a list of them so that we can remember all of them. We arranged for trip insurance so that we are covered for any medical issues that arise (Yes, I do remember Costa Rica!) and trip cancellation. Next week, I want to organize our Global Entry applications and we have started to look for storage places for our stuff and cars.
My wonderful wife was a journalist in a previous life, and I am pretty sure she will accuse me of burying the lead (I would spell it lede) on this one. Yes, we are cancelling our France trip in July. However, the real lead is that we have decided to spend nine (and maybe more?) months abroad.
The whole insanity started when Sue’s friend, who lives in Burgundy said that we could rent a place in her village really cheaply. Sue looked at me and said: “Want to live in France?” I looked up from the Yankees game (pretty sure they were losing – it has been that kind of season so far) and said: “Sure, how do we make that work?” The answer, believe it or not, was pretty straightforward. All we really need to do is:
Decide when we want to leave, where we want to go and for how long
Ensure that we have enough income to cover the costs
Find a place to live
Ok, so maybe not so straightforward, but as someone once told me. Solve the first problem first, then move to the next one…
Figure out when, where and how long we would want to live abroad.
The when was pretty easy. Our lease is up on Aug. 31, so after that day we have nothing tying us down. September 1st seems like a good day to get started.
On to where: Our starting thought was that it had to be somewhere our cost of living was not higher than our current spend. In reality that isn’t very hard. We pay nearly $3k per month for rent, utilities etc. We hopped onto AirBnB and started listing the places we wanted to live…Fez, Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Almalfi Coast, Istanbul, Israel, Amsterdam, Copenhagen….and that is just Western Europe (and Morocco and the Middle East). We found reasonable places in our price range wherever we looked, so we put price aside as a limiting factor.
How long was next on the list. We decided pretty early on that we didn’t want to be away for longer than three months – at least for the first tranche. In part because we want to be home for Thanksgiving, in part because that seems like a nice amount of time to spend in a place. That means tranche one will be 10 weeks long (Sept. 1-mid-Nov.). Our initial thought was to go to Fez to start. Sue is very keen to live there and it seemed like a great place to kick off the adventure. Our second choice was to go to Paris and Burgundy. Might be nice to be near someone who knows our name and speaks our language (neither Sue nor I speak French yet, we are Duolingoing: Je m’appelle Susan). After a bit of negotiation, review of weather and letting it marinade in our minds, we decided to start in France, come home for Thanksgiving then go to Morocco for Dec.-Feb. This decision is firmly embedded in Jello – so who knows if we will change our minds.
Decision one made….now move to can we afford this foolishness
My consulting work is doing reasonably well. I have a few clients and with the amount of projects they have asked me to do, I should be reasonably (25-30 hours per week) busy for the foreseeable future (is foreseeable redundant in this context? yes, I don’t believe in foreseeable except that I have picked up the matriarchal saying, “Mark my words”). In addition to teaching, Sue has been doing some freelance writing, 10-15 hours per week right now. (If you or anyone you know is in the market for a writer, I am available!) All in we are pretty comfortable that we have more than enough income to keep the circus on the road.
Step two down…Time to find a place to live
Sue’s friend in Burgundy has been helping us with areas in France. Once again, after much discussion, we decided to split the 10 weeks into 4 weeks in Burgundy and 6 weeks in Paris. AirBnB or VRBO seem like the best choices as houses/apartments come fully furnished including kitchen utensils and linens. We have both been trawling through the sites looking for appropriate places (interestingly, while we both put in the same filters we do not always see the same places – especially in Paris as the how close in/far out the zoom on the map is seems to effect the listings shown). Our first stop is a town called Clamecy (shown on the map with the big red(ish) balloon. It is about two hours by train from Paris and in the heart of Burgundy.
Here is an aerial photo of the town; it is at the confluence of the Yonne and Beuvron rivers. Read more about it on the Wikipedia page. Please remember that Wikipedia will tell you that it is not a reliable source, so do not use it as a reference for any scholarly materials. (This blog falls well short of scholarly…I personally am hoping for nearly cogent).
I really have no idea what the photo to the left is, but I found it when I was searching for photos of Clamecy, and it was too weird/cool not to include in my ramblings. Anyway, back to the story…
We found a nice little apartment in the center of town and Sue took care of booking it. One place to live organized.
We have looked at a bunch of places in Paris, but not booked anything yet. You, dear readers, will have to login in next time for updates on Paris. Following our six weeks of Parisian indulgence, we are going to return to the States to celebrate Thanksgiving. We are flying home mid-November, stopping first in Chicago to visit with friends, then back to Baltimore for a few days of overeating and watching football – American football that is.
Next stop: Fez! Before we started this blog we did a three-week tour of Morocco. It was fabulous and I would highly recommend a visit there to anyone who has even a little bit of an adventurous spirit (although spirits themselves are hard to find there as it is a predominantly Muslim country). We stayed in Marrakesh, Fez, Tangier, climbed the 13,671 foot Mt. Toubkal (well more accurately Sue climbed it, I tapped out at 11,000 feet), visited Ouarzazate (one of the worlds largest movie studios (Lawrence of Arabia, Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, Game of Thrones (Season 3) were filmed there) and glamped in the desert (our tent had running water). As with Paris, you will have to tune in next time to see where we will be living. Our goal is to live in the Medina (the old walled part of the city) at at the moment, we think we have found a place, but until we book it, it isn’t firmly set.
Everything after Fez is up in the air, other than we have from end of February until the middle of May (we have a hard stop in Mid May as it is our granddaughter’s birthday and we will not miss that!) to wander, we may come back to the states for a week, or maybe not. Currently high on our hit parade is Istanbul, but for no reason other than it seems interesting. Suggestions are always welcome.