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.
I don’t know why I get this way, but now that I know we are going to Italy, I am obsessed with finding just the right places to stay at just the right prices. I know. We have five months! Maybe I am a little crazy when it comes to travel, especially with my niece or nephew, but I want to make sure everything is perfect, I don’t break the bank, and we don’t miss out on a great place to stay because I was disorganized.
As I have mentioned, I prefer Airbnb because we can get two bedrooms (teens need their privacy and alone time), a lounging space, and a kitchen for about the same price I would pay for a single hotel room.
Here’s how I search:
Just as in buying real estate, I go for location, location, location. The first thing I do is research neighborhoods. I am not that picky since every area as something to offer and it will all be exciting and new to me. I prefer to be a bit off the beaten track in a neighborhood where real people live. That’s another benefit of Airbnb. It does mean that it takes a little longer to get to the top tourist sites, but that is a trade I gladly make.
Price. To trick myself into not getting big eyes, I put this filter on immediately. I don’t want to know what I can have for $300 a night, because I am not going to be able to have it. Make sure you look at the total and not the per night price. People set all kinds of cleaning and service fees that can make one place look cheaper up front, but really be more expensive.
Amenities. We need WiFi. Sorry, but this is the modern world, we don’t speak the language, and we are leaving loved ones home. Plus, how would I post the blog? We also want a well-equipped kitchen. I don’t need to eat three meals a day in restaurants. Sometimes you just want to bring a sandwich with you. Then, I think about specifics. I want air conditioning in case of an Italian heat wave. Convenience of public transport is also key since I am almost certain I will not rent a car no matter how enticing driving the narrow, winding roads of Italy seems. Check the list of amenities! I saw one where a visitor said the oven wasn’t working. The owner replied that he should have checked the listing more carefully because the oven was not included in the price although it was pictured. What? Also, make sure the price includes linens and towels, unless you are bringing your own.
Reviews. Yes I read them, using Steven’s rules. Throw out the gushiest and the worst and see what’s left. There’s always one complainer, but if many people mention that the bed was lumpy, it probably is.
Check the specifics. What are the check-in and check-out times? Are they flexible if you have flights that don’t coincide? What is the
Agonize, search a dozen times, make a decision and forget about all the other places you looked at. Let’s face it: We’re going to have a great time whether we stay a few blocks to the east or west, or even 20 minutes by bus. Everything is an adventure when I travel.
This is a bit of a rant, but so be it. If there’s one thing that really bugs me, and I am a pretty laid-back guy, it is the old bait-and-switch. Tell me up front and I’m fine; sneak in different conditions after I’ve bought, and I’m not fine. This happened when we checked into New York New York. I had booked what I thought was a room with a king bed. When we arrived, the woman at the reception desk said, “Oh no, you get whatever we have and we only have rooms with two queen beds.” We could have upgraded for $30, but why should we have to. Then I looked online and saw that they list the king room and the queen room separately and you can book either one. Frustrating.
We also had an issue with our AirBnB. Again, tell me the rules up front and I can decide if I want to follow them or go elsewhere. The day we were checking into the place, Sue got an email asking us to strip the bed, put all the dishes in the dishwasher and turn it on, put the towels in the hamper, and take out the garbage. OK, but you’re charging us a $52 cleaning fee. The silliest was that in the rules of the house, it said, “No shoes in the house.” Fine, but we had to walk into the condo in our shoes in order to see the rule book. Later, we asked our real estate agent, the Marvelous Mrs. Megan Ahleen, and she gave us a reasonable explanation: The soil is a very fine, red sand and it gets on everything. Somehow, it managed to get under my shoes and socks during our hike. The place itself was perfectly comfortable, with a few nitpicks I won’t bother to enumerate here.
The best feature of the condo was that we could walk to the end of the road where there was open land and watch a gorgeous sunset.
One thing we were looking forward to was a visit to Hash House A Go Go. The Chicago outpost of this Indiana chain closed. They say they serve “twisted farm food.” I don’t know about that, but I do know they serve is enormous portions. Sue had a vegetable skillet plate that came with two eggs and tons of veggies smothering crispy fried potatoes and just in case that wasn’t enough food, a biscuit. I had the “downsized” burger , so named because it only has one patty the size of my forearm. My favorite part was getting to use the 55+ (he means old man–next step, early bird special) discount. Woo hoo!
We are all set to go to St. George. We spent this week searching airfares, hotels in Las Vegas, AirBnB’s in St. George, and rental cars. It always ends up being more complicated than it should be and there are way too many permutations that can’t be searched at once. Our plan is to fly to Las Vegas on Saturday, stay overnight, then drive to St. George in the morning. We will look around St. George from Sunday to Wednesday and then fly home from Las Vegas on Wednesday evening.
We started on the big search sites like Orbitz and Travelocity. The nice things about them is that we can search for a package of airfare, hotel, and car. The drawbacks: We could not exclude the basic economy flights from the search and so any pricing required us to separately search for airfare and add back any additional costs if the site allowed us to “upgrade” to regular economy. (I am sure Sue will use a blog post at some point to rant about the injustice of the multi-economy pricing model, but we will leave that for another time. You know it.) I will confine my whine to say that the option to upgrade–if available at all–is usually buried somewhere towards the end of the booking.
We also searched the airline websites, which also offer packages and while we are able to book the right airfare, the hotel booking option is limited–at least on American (and United as far as I could tell) –to a hotel in the city where you are flying and for the entire time you are there. Not what we are looking for, so strike two. We were able to book the flights and then a separate booking on the airline site for the hotel (which got us extra miles!), but it is the same price as booking the hotel from the hotel site. Both of those exclude the mandatory resort fee from the price of the room. I don’t mind if they exclude the costs of options that we may not use (breakfast, internet, parking, etc.) from the listed price of the room. I might not want those extras and so I shouldn’t have to pay for them. But the “resort fee” is mandatory so I don’t have any option but to pay it. Seems like that should be part of the room fee. What next? Mandatory check-in fee? Or perhaps an elevator use tax? Please, just add $35 to the price of the room and just be done with it.
Parking is another issue. Since we need a car, we will have to park at the hotel for one night. I thought it might be a better idea to pick up the car Sunday morning–one fewer day of rental and not paying for the parking would be offset by the cost of two taxi/Uber/Lyft rides from/to the airport. The taxi/Uber/Lyft ride would be $10 each way. When I searched the cars, it is somewhat counter-intuitively $10 less expensive to rent the car on Saturday rather than on Sunday. No idea why. Perhaps there is a sin tax for renting on Sunday, although not likely as it is Las Vegas and if they were going to tax sin, renting a car on Sunday would have to be pretty far down the list. Either way, we have now booked it for Saturday and will pay the $15 to park.
We booked an AirBnB in St. George and I have the same sort of issue with their pricing. he place was listed at about $70 per night but the total was about $350. Last time I checked, and I realize I have been out of school for a long time (although he is allegedly an accountant) 4 nights@$70 per night should be about $280 (for those of you following along with your calculators do this: press the 4, press the * key press the 7 and then press the 0. Now press Enter; you should see 280. I don’t mind paying $350 per 4 nights, but that is NOT $70 per night.
So, here is my recap for this post. 1. Please let me search your site for what I want. 2. Give me a break and allow me to define what options I want/don’t want up front 3. Please organize the prices in a reasonable and logical order and 4. (and finally) JUST TELL ME THE DAMN PRICE. NO MANDATORY FEES OR NO HIDDEN CHARGES.
Well, thank you United for simultaneously getting us here on time and reminding me why I really don’t like flying the friendly skies. No power to juice my laptop, non-working earphone jack in the “entertainment” system (which I think is circa 1981 with channels for the different audio and continuously running movies–want to see the beginning of the film? Guess that start time), and unavailable personal electronics entertainment. To add insult to injury, the coffee tasted burned and flavorless at the same time. Boy that cup of joe sunk below my meager expectations for airplane sustenance.
We arrived at our AirBnB near St. John’s Wood without much distress and found that it is lovely, although the owner neglected to mention the 61 stairs we had to climb to get to it. My nephew promptly fell asleep, while I drank coffee, unpacked, showered, and found some very British telly to watch. A game show where you are given numbers and you have to do math calculations to end with a certain sum? Yeah, that would go over big in the States (I think it is called Countdown and the woman who used to do the math or as the Brits say maths, was Carol something or other).
Once Jake was awake and semi-conscious, we decided to head to the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Kind of a ripoff at 15 pounds a piece but fun to do since it was within walking distance. And I got a cool pic of me. Yes that’s me in the famous Sherlock Holmes hat that the amazing detective who never lived never wore.
Side note: Here’s a helpful hint if you are dragging your laptop with you: Make sure your converter is grounded. Mine wasn’t. Oops! We were passing a hardware store on our way to Baker Street, popped in, and got one for less than the prices I saw online. Plus, we met some friendly people.
For our first real meal here we had — surprise! — fish and chips at Hobson’s since it was on many best of lists and was close. A mile walk was about all we wanted. I had matzo meal breading on plaice which I had never even heard of, but is firm, flat and moist; Jake had the classic battered cod. Both were delicious. I also ate mushy peas, because, well, funny British food. Plus, I had a soda called Fentiman’s Dandelion & Burdock. Don’t ask me what it really was, but it was pretty good if a bit sweet. The label was in English and Slovak, which we figured out with a little help from Google Translate. We finished the day with a walk just so we wouldn’t fall asleep to early. No time for jetlag.
All-in-all a good day, except that I wasn’t with Steven on his birthday. Happy birthday, Steven! (Thank you! I am weeping into my COLD non-English beer because you are not here.)
Next up for me anyway. Steven is going to miss this trip. Aunt Susie is taking her nephew to London as a high school graduation present. (Yes, I am the world’s best aunt!!) My nephew is a joy to travel with. He laughs easily, is game to try things, and looks at the world with interest and intellect. We will miss the royal wedding (I didn’t realize you were invited); our weeklong trip starts May 29 and we’re are staying at an AirBnB in St. John’s Wood.
All suggestions are welcome! I haven’t been to London for more than 25 years. We don’t have a complete game plan, but he is a math/science guy getting ready to head off to college, so Greenwich, Stonehenge, a museum or two, and Oxford or Cambridge (which one do you recommend?) Don’t come home if you don’t get a picture of you crossing Abbey Road. I am going to be the ultimate tourist. Too bad Big Ben is silent. I guess we will have to go back.Maybe I will even wear big, white sneakers so everyone will know without me opening my mouth that we are American. We are thinking about Chunneling to Paris for the day, but there is a train strike in France and as much as I would love to be stranded in Paris, I think my sister-in-law would kill me if I didn’t bring her son home.