Settling In

We have started to settle into our new place. We spent most of Thursday unpacking and getting set up. We met Sue’s friend Suzanne (the one from Burgundy) for lunch as she had come up to Paris for the day. We walked about 8km (5ish miles) from the apartment to the restaurant, ate lunch wandered a bit more and then took the Metro back. One of the Metro lines near us (the #6) is undergoing some repairs and is closed, so we had to exit at a station that was about a 10 minute walk. We could have taken a bus, but at the time that seemed a bit daunting to me. We will try the buses another day.

Everything is a huge adventure especially having to interact with people. We are desperately trying to speak French and the Parisians have been patient and helpful. It seems like most people speak at least some English and they will switch back and forth for us. It must be pretty funny to hear us butcher French, have the reply come back in reasonably good English, and then we reply once again in butchered French (although a couple of times Sue has mistakenly answered in Spanish which make the whole interaction even funnier). We are wrapping our heads around prices, especially for things priced in kilos. We keep looking at prices and think 15 Euros for a kilo that is a fortune … only to realize that we would pay $7.99 a pound at home. It seems like things are more expensive here, but we expected and budgeted for that.

Saturday morning we walked to a farmer’s market about 15 minutes away and loaded up on fresh produce and some Middle Eastern food (there were a few Lebanese vendors and it seemed like a nice treat). After lunch we strapped our walking shoes back on and headed for a Monoprix, which is sort of a small department store. We needed some toiletries and other minor bits and bobs. It was about a 20 minute walk and the weather is beautiful, mid-70s and sunny.

The evil espresso maker
Our coffee savior

We have had one challenge – as there always is. The apartment has an espresso machine that clearly hates Sue. No matter how carefully she follows the directions (even watching a couple YouTube videos), it proceeds to leak coffee out the sides and put a bunch of grounds in the bottom of our cups. We surrendered and picked up a French press to satisfy our need for coffee. While we were out, we asked one of the shop attendants for the name of a store that might sell them. She kindly gave us the name Darty and we wandered off to find one. We now have the ability to make coffee.

Our final outing was to the grocery store to pick up a few more things; pasta for dinner, rice, more coffee and wine. All in all a successful, but exhausting day.

Steven forgot to mention that we got trapped in the grocery store because we didn’t know we had to scan our receipt after doing the self checkout. So many little things to learn.

The home stretch

We are into the home stretch and somewhat surprisingly, we are thinking that the packing is nearly done. We are down to just a few kitchen things that we still need, our linens and a few clothes that are all going into the suitcases. We have decided to finish packing by Tuesday the 20th, and are then spending the 20th-24th at our granddaughter’s house (oh yeah, with her parents too). The movers are coming on the 22nd, so we will just swing back to the house on that morning and supervise. We figure we will return on the 23rd and do a final clean and that will be it for our time in Edgewater, MD. It was a good place to land for COVID, but it’s not going to be a home base for us.

Some boxes and stuff (we have a lot of stuff but not as much as before).

We are packing for four different locations all at once. Paris, our first stop in August, should be nice and warm so we will need summery clothes. We go to Burgundy in September and Nice in Oct./Nov., so it should be cooler (highs in the 60s and lows in the 50s, which means we will need sightly warmer clothes. When we return, we fly directly to Chicago which will be cold (highs in the 40s lows in the 30s) as it is the end of November when we are there. From there it’s back to Baltimore, which will be warmer than Chicago (highs in the 50s lows in the 40s). All this on one suitcase each, which is proving a little bit of a challenge. Just pointing out that my suitcase is lighter than his by at least 5 pounds.

We made a small concession to the space issue and packed a box of winterish clothes which we are sending to our friend in Chicago. She will store it until we arrive. Hopefully, the ride from the airport to her place won’t be too terrible as we really won’t have much in the way of warm clothes.

More boxes and stuff, plus a suitcase that isn’t packed for France, Fes or Chicago.

We also decided that we would put together a suitcase of things that we thought we might want but couldn’t fit. We are going to leave that in one of cars and when we return from France, we will swap out anything we are tired of/didn’t use/don’t need any more for our trip to Morocco (highs in 60s lows in the 40s) and wherever we decide for the couple of months after Morocco (right now Italy and Amsterdam are the leading candidates).

All the other clothes are going into boxes and are destined for the storage unit.

We have been watching with interest the changes to the COVID rules in France, and it now appears we will need a card from a doctor or pharmacist that shows we have been vaccinated. The reading we have done seems to show that our CDC vaccine card should provide us with the documentation that we will need to get the French card, but as with all of these fast changing regulations, we are going to just figure it out as we go if we need to. We think the worst case scenario is that we have to get a PCR test before they issue us the card. My uncle (who speaks French) has kindly provided us with the phrase we will need to ask the pharmacist for the card (or at least I think that is what he sent…he does have an excellent sense of humor, so for all I know his phrase says something like “I am an ugly American and your country sucks, I don’t need no stinking medical card”, perhaps I should run his phrase through Google translate 😉)

As you can imagine, we are getting very excited and are counting down the days.

Seeing Family

Happy July 4th to all our American readers.

As Sue said in the last post, we wrapped up our eating fest in Chicago and headed down to Houston to visit Sue’s middle brother. Our three-hour flight to Houston took us a couple of hours longer than expected because we sat on the runway in Chicago waiting for American Airlines to get updated paperwork into the pilot’s hands for some cargo that was in the hold. (Number 1 worst airline, according to me.) We taxied out the runway, sat for an hour, then taxied back to the gate, waited, got the paperwork and then headed south after a two-hour delay. The joys of travel. Once in Houston, Brian (Sue’s brother) met us at the airport and we headed to his house for a fun-filled weekend visiting with him, his wife Chelsey and our adorable niece (Lexi) and nephew (Ethan aka Jett).

On Saturday, Sue, Brian, Jett (and a friend of Jetty’s which meant the entire trip became a gigglefest, so cute) and I took a quick ride over to Austin for a baseball tournament (afternoon temps in low 100s Fahrenheit – high 30s in Celsius because Sue and I are trying to get used to the using Celsius). It is about a three-hour ride, and along the way we stopped at a perfect bit of Americana. It is a glorified–and I mean really glorified gas station and convenience store called Buc-ee’s.

It is enormous, something like 100 gas pumps and a store that sells everything from coffee to all types of travel food (including home made BBQ sandwiches) to kitschy Americana to a store’s worth of Buc-ee branded clothes (including Buc-ee bathing suits!) and things like portable ice machines, tents and meat smokers. It is fabulous. Only in America and only in Texas would there be a convenience store so large that it takes 5 minutes to walk the length of it. I LOVED IT! When we arrived at the ball field we found out that Jett’s game was delayed by an hour or so. We settled in to sweat and wait, but Brian was kind enough to lend us his (Chelsey’s) SUV for the afternoon and we went into Austin. More accurately we headed to a couple of breweries in South Austin. We visited St. Elmo Brewing Company and Vacancy Brewing Company. Both are recently opened in a very cool little area that has breweries, wineries, (a sake brewer? OK) and a distillery along with a bunch of hip businesses like design and marketing companies. They both were very good and we had a great afternoon out.

We stopped for dinner at an excellent little Thai restaurant called Ros Niyom Thai in Round Rock, where our hotel was. Sue ordered her food hot, and the waiter said that she could have it one, two or three in heat, where three was the hottest. Sue ordered three, I ordered two. The food came and it was great, just the right amount of heat for both of us. After we were done the waiter asked how it was and Sue said perfect. He then said that hers was level 2. That their food is medium, hot and Damn Hot and even he couldn’t eat the damn hot.

On Sunday morning we watched another of Jett’s baseball games (9 a.m. temp 34C) and then headed back to Houston for one more day with the family.

Our flight home was uneventful. We flew Spirit airlines, booked the upgraded seats and checked our luggage. (Spirit better than American? Who knew?) The entire process was a little less smooth than other airlines, you had to check in at the airport first, the line to check our bags was a bit long, the boarding was a little more chaotic than usual, nothing–not even water is free on the flight. But, all in, the seats were comfortable, the flight was on time, and our luggage came out fairly quickly, so it was not a bad flight. I’d rather that that a two-hour incompetence delay and a bag of pretzels.

Once home, Sue went into packing monster mode and has packed up much of the house and arranged for our movers. I mostly did work and spent about 6 hours in a dentist’s chair getting three same day crowns. Yes, I have terrible teeth.

For the July Fourth weekend, we made our last real road trip. We went to my sister’s house (about 2 hours away near Harrisburg, PA). Much of my side of the family was there, including my sister (well it was her house), my brother-in-law Mario (it’s also his house), all four of their adult kids, my mother, my son Josh, my daughter-in-law Liz and Hannah, the most amazing granddaughter any grandparents could hope for. For July 4th my sister had a BBQ and invited another dozen or so people including our brother-in-law Karl and his wife Helen. It was wonderful to see them as it has been about 2 years. I had never met them and they are wonderful. They don’t live far from us so maybe if/when we get back we will see them again. The temp was about 30 C, so, of course, Mario lit a fire in the fire pit at about 2 p.m. and kept it going all night as the temps dipped into the high 20s (yes, Celsius again). As always, they had enough food to keep a small army fed for a month, so most of it was gone by the end of the evening. Mario, Karl and my nephew Michael put on a small firework display and everyone survived with all their fingers. An excellent day was had by all.

Monday we returned home to our partially packed house, and prepared for the week ahead. So much to do, so many things still to be organized and what seems like so little time.

Just some updates

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!)

May 10 (ish): Fly to Baltimore

That is all for now.

Nice is Nice

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.

Our trip to France has been cancelled

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:

  1. Decide when we want to leave, where we want to go and for how long
  2. Ensure that we have enough income to cover the costs
  3. Find a place to live
  4. Go.

Ok, so maybe not so straightforward, but as someone once told me. Solve the first problem first, then move to the next one…

Step 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.

Birthday in the Big Apple

Before I get to the post, I want to remind everyone that when I write the post, Sue’s comments are shown in italics and vice versa when she writes. This is important today as I suspect that she may have just a few minor really unimportant comments on the post. 😉

Memorial Day weekend is my birthday, and it is kind of a big one (a VERY big one), so we decided that it was time to take a trip. Sue is fully vaccinated, I have had my first shot and will have my second in a week, so we think we should be safe. My birthday present is a weekend in New York, doing something we both love – seeing baseball games. It is our good luck that both the Yankees (YAY!!! GREATEST BASEBALL TEAM EVER! Um, most annoying overblown team ever) and the other team – you know – the ones from the amateur league – what is their name?….The Nots?, The Nudniks? The Queenies?….oh yeah…The Mets (BOOOOO!!!! Meet the Mets, meet the Mets, step right up and up and greet the Mets and please get a bullpen and give deGrom some support!) are both in town that weekend.

So here is the plan – such as it is. Friday night, we will be driving up after Sue gets home from school. It is allegedly a 3.5 hour trip, but on a holiday weekend, we figure more like 6. I suspect we will bring snacks and a picnic dinner in the car. We made reservations at a hotel in Chinatown, so we think we will be there by 10-10:30, settle in and maybe go out for a quick wander and perhaps dessert.

Saturday we have a free day. Our usual methodology is to pick a few places that we might like to visit and just start wandering vaguely in that direction, stopping and changing plans as often as the mood takes us. The other day, I noticed the Museum of Ice Cream on the map, so for me that is a must “see”. Sue is unfortunately lactose intolerant (sorry Sue, no ice cream for you don’t care, don’t like it) maybe they have some of that vegan not really ice cream. Too bad, so sad. You can assume we will be partaking in many of our culinary favorites while on the streets. Bagels, pizza, perhaps a street gyro, and of course, multiple Chinese and Italian bakeries. Saturday night we will find a nice place to eat to celebrate my birthday and if it is possible maybe go out for some jazz.

The Nots, Nudniks, Queenies I mean, Mets, are playing the Braves on Sunday night, and given the antics from a week or so ago (deGrom struck out seven, gave up three hits and he had two hits and one RBI) – we hope to see their bullpen blow another brilliant performance by deGrom (love him!)(or any of their starting pitchers). It is an evening game, and so we will have another morning and at least early afternoon to wander some more. No idea what will be doing, but there are always fun places to visit when you are in New York. If you do not know this, Sue is as ardent of a Nots, Nudniks, Queenies…er Mets fan (this is their year!!!I believe!!!!!) as I am of the the Yankees (GREATEST BASEBALL TEAM EVER. Wrong, everyone knows Yankees suck) I suspect she will write some alternative narrative for this section…Oh well. Let’s see what damage she does. The game is scheduled for ESPN’s Sunday Night baseball, so look for us! We will be the couple engaged in hand-to-hand combat and loudly booing each other. Of course, I will be rooting for Atlanta (I think this is grounds for divorce).

Monday, the Yankees (GREATEST BASEBALL TEAM EVER BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO) will be playing the Tampa Bay Rays in the afternoon; our plan is to get up, grab breakfast, get in the car and drive up to the Bronx. With a little luck we will see the Yankees trounce the Rays (although at the moment, the Rays are taking the Yankees’ lunch money yet again. The Yankees look SOOOO BAD, it’s fabulous), in the sunshine in the beautiful house that Ruth built, well, not really because it is the new stadium, but let’s let that go for poetic license. Over the two games I will have my fill of all the perfect baseball food…hot dogs, popcorn, Cracker Jack and beer. Sue will have to make due with some attempts by the plant munchers to simulate these great flavors using plants, nuts and seeds. Following the game, we will hop back in the car, and head home.

Of course all of this is dependent on the stadiums staying open (or even should I dare hope open further), us getting tickets and the whole world not shutting down again.

PS. No spreadsheet needed for this one. 😉

Have spreadsheet, will travel

Ah…the joy of Excel

In the world before the pandemic, Sue had booked a trip to Italy with her niece as a high school graduation gift. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 virus caused her to cancel the trip and her niece is not available for a trip this summer. We have about $3,000 of flight credits that we need to use up this year, so we decided to go out on a limb and book a trip for the summer. As you all remember, before we go anywhere, I start a spreadsheet and while I am a little out of practice, here is my first stab at a preliminary itinerary for our trip to France.

On an accounting geek side note: Since we are using flight credits to pay for the tickets, I am currently meditating on how to list the price for the flights. One one hand, if we are looking at this sheet as a measure of the cost of the trip, then I should include the price of the flights. On the other hand, if we are looking at this as a list of the amount of cash we will be spending for the trip and since the flight credits are use it or lose it, then perhaps I should exclude the cost of the flights. Just a quick meditation on the accounting for the trip. Feel free to weigh in if you choose.

Preliminary trip plan

I think we previously mentioned that Sue has a friend who lives in Paris. Last year she and her wife moved out of the city to Burgundy. We decided (somewhat uninvited?) to go and visit them. In outline, we plan to fly into Geneva, visit Burgundy, drive down through Provence, along the Cote d’Azur and up into the French national parks to do some hiking in the Alps and then back to Geneva. Our thought is that if we are both vaccinated we can safely travel, but perhaps this isn’t the time to go romping around the cities and visiting crowded museums and windy little streets. So instead, we will plan to spend much of our time seeing Sue’s friend, driving around the countryside (perhaps visiting a winery or ten?), and hiking in the Alps.

Right now we are doing our usual planning process which consists of us reading anything we can about places that may look interesting and writing notes down (usually on little slips of paper or Post-It notes). At some point we will collate them and figure out which ones make the cut. We usually end up with about three times the number of things that we can possibly manage in the time that we have, so hand-to-hand combat between Sue and myself ends up being the deciding factor. Yes, Sue always wins, but that is because she fights like she is from Queens and I fight like a gentleman. I created a very preliminary list of National Parks that look interesting and a few other places I have heard about/see somewhere etc. Sue has begun to read about places and we will, at some point soon start to make a plan. If anyone has suggestions, please feel free to let us know.

Who knows, by the time we finish the plan, for all we know we will spend three weeks in Italy instead. 😉

It’s an Adventure

I know, we haven’t written anything in forever so this is going to be a bit of a long post. It has been a tough few months. A quick summary of our travel plans (or lack thereof).  We had lots of travel scheduled for this summer. Sue and her niece were planning on going to Italy in May, Sue and I were planning on going to Baltimore to see my son/daughter-in-law, We also had booked an Alaskan cruise and trip to Denali, Fairbanks and the Arctic Circle in July.

Hannah

COVID knocked all these plans to the curb. So far, the only trip we managed was a road trip to Baltimore in May to see my son, daughter-in-law, and their brand new baby girl, Hannah. Sue and I are both first time grandparents and neither rain nor snow or pandemic could stop us from visiting our granddaughter (regrets to the USPS motto). We left early in the morning and did the 11-hour drive in one quick jump, stayed in our own AirBnB and spent every moment we could with our baby. After two weeks we drove back home and resumed our regular lives.

A ton has happened since then. 

In late July we noticed that the housing market was quite strong and since our plan has been to get out of Chicago, we placed the house on the market. To our great surprise, we had an offer on the house in three days and a deal to sell it on the fourth. Wow. We were both mentally prepared for the house to sit on the market for months, so we did not invest much time and effort in looking for a new place to live. We knew we wanted to be back on the East Coast, someplace warmer than Chicago (not a difficult ask provided we were not planning on moving to Canada!) and preferably near to Baltimore, so we could work on our spoiling the grandchild skills. 

Oh, did I mention the buyers wanted to close in just about a month? The new owners have an elementary-school-aged child and want to get him into school at the start of the year.

So there we are. It is the end of July. We have sold the house, we have no idea where we are going to live, and we have a fairly short runway before we are homeless. There was, of course, only one potential solution. 

ROADTRIP!

We arranged for a dog sitter for Rosie — our 12 year old German shepherd — and we hopped into my car and drove east to find a place to live. We left early on Thursday and drove straight through. We stayed with my sister in PA as Hannah’s parents’ house was full with other visitors that weekend. My sister lives about an hour and half north of Baltimore, so not too far. We spent Friday and Saturday looking for a house to rent.

It was a very frustrating weekend. The rental market is very fragmented, and difficult to work with. We used all the websites, contacted what seemed like a million brokers, saw a bunch of houses, but in the end we did not manage to rent anything. Having a large dog made us a less suitable candidate and while we would submit applications, the places all seemed to go to someone without a dog. Time to suck up a bit: Thanks to both Steven’s family and mine plus our friends for being an incredible safety net. We knew we wouldn’t be homeless. I am grateful and keep thinking about all the people who aren’t as fortunate as we are.

We decided to leave my car in PA. It seemed to make sense to only have one car to drive out there when we moved, to our new (and entirely ephemeral) house together, especially since we would have Rosie in the back seat. (He neglects to mention that that brilliant idea was mine. Braving the plane was a bit nerve-wracking, but we flew Southwest, which doesn’t sell middle seats. Apparently, right after we flew, they decided that cleaning the plane after each flight was taking too long, so hmmmmm.)

Fast forward a week or so, and through the magic of the internet and some good old fashioned phone work we found Janette. She is our Realtor and newest best friend. I spoke to her on Saturday, explained what we were looking for (3 beds, 2 baths, backyard, dog friendly, within 45 minutes of Hannah) and she said the most comforting words I have heard during the search: “Leave this with me. I will find you a place, this is a game and I hate to lose.” Janette was as good as her word. She found places, looked at them, did video tours with us, spoke to the owners to make sure that they were OK with the dog. She is a whirlwind and lo and behold she found us a place.  A nice raised ranch. (This message is for Sue alone: no no no no….It is a not a split level! Let me mansplain this to you {he’s so funny, isn’t he?} [AGAIN]: A raised ranch has the living quarters and the sleeping quarters on the same level and a lower basement area. A split level has the sleeping quarters half a floor above the living quarters and a lower level sitting area — I feel better now) outside Annapolis. 

Whew — no longer going to be homeless, but the clock was ticking. We now started really working. I made a spreadsheet (YAY!) of all the things I figured we needed to do. We hired movers, started to cancel our utilities, cleaned out all the stuff that you never get around to clearing out when you live somewhere for 16 years (read: old paint, old toys, old scraps of wood, metal and ceramic from previous rehab projects and previous owners) and started packing. We dedicated two hours a day to packing and clearing the house. It is really quite surprising how fast it went. After a couple of weeks, pretty much everything that we do not use on a regular basis was packed. 

Happiness is a good spreadsheet

Probably the hardest part of this move is leaving all our friends. We both have been in Chicago for 15+ years and we have a pretty active social life. In “normal times” we would have a great big Labor Day weekend party (in part to help us eat up all the food in the house) with everyone invited. In a pandemic world, that just isn’t possible. We have been meeting with our friends one on one, which is, of course, much more difficult to arrange and much more time consuming. It seems like we are going out (outdoor dining only and with only one other couple) multiple times a week and we just hope we have not missed anyone.

One week and two days until moving day.

Wow…there stills seems like so much to do! But instead, I think I sit on the deck and watch the sun go down…

So Much for Our Plans…

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Wish we were here

Wouldn’t you know it? Just when we thought we were all set with our travel plans, the world goes and gets a virus. Too flippant? Sorry. It has been a rough couple of weeks.  We last wrote about our trip to New York and Boston that ended on March 8. We were home just about a week and our governor, quite rightly, closed down businesses, schools etc. and we were sequestered to our home.

Thankfully, neither Sue nor I show signs of the Covid-19 virus, but we are both going a bit stir crazy from being inside (yesterday we walked 5 miles, just to be out in the fresh air). Our sense of humor is critical to our mental well being and in response to both working from home, we have developed an imaginary co-worker (Ragnar) who is a total pain in the ass. Every glass left on the countertop, every light left on, every door left open is Ragnar’s fault. I know, it isn’t much, but it keeps us laughing and not complaining about each other.

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or here

We should have been in Houston this week. If you do not recall, we were heading to Houston as the last of our one-week trips to someplace warm (or at least out of Chicago) over the ). Sue’s brother lives there and the grand plan was to show up for her niece’s birthday and catch an early season Mets game (so before they were officially eliminated from the postseason (damn Yankees fan)). The quarantine put an end to that trip.

Sue has a trip scheduled with another niece to Italy to celebrate her high school graduation. That trip is planned for the end of May, but, alas, we both expect that they will need to postpone that until who knows when.

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Or even here…

Finally, our trip to Alaska in July is also looking uncertain. Even if we are granted parole from this quarantine, it seems unwise to board a ship with thousands of other people many of whom may or may not have been quarantined. Who knows if they could still be carriers, which makes it seem especially unwise as we were planning to travel with my mother, who is over 80.

So there we go, or there we don’t go. Whatever. We are shifting our thoughts from our travel plans to our attempts to recover the amounts we have already committed to these trips and sighing heavily for the trips not taken and the fun not had.

I hope this doesn’t come off as complaining. It is a bit, but we are grateful that we are all well and looking forward to the simple joys of seeing our friends, eating out, and being able to find toilet paper at the grocery store.

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or watching this sunset.