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

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

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

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

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

Settling into Istanbul

The days here are long as we tend to get up by 9, head out for some sightseeing until 1 or 2 p.m., then home to work until 8 p.m. and then have dinner. We are generally getting to sleep between 1 and 2 a.m. Long, but really fun days. One thing to note is that Istanbul is built on a series of seven hills, however in a feat of geologic engineering, they have managed to make it so that no matter what direction we walk, we are going uphill.

Monday we acquired train passes. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but if Kafka were going to design a way to sell transit passes, he would have used the Istanbul system as a model, perhaps even deciding it was too complicated and bizarre for one of his stories. It started Sunday evening when we wanted to ride a bus to see a mosque about 40 minutes away.

You can only buy single ride passes at the bus/metro/tram stops and they cost 6 T₺ (which is about $0.67each — the Turkish lira is about 9 U.S. cents). However, the machines only take cash and gives no change. Our smallest notes were 50 T₺ and that didn’t seem worth it. So, we asked the guard where to find the InstanbulKart, the refillable train pass. He vaguely waved in the direction of another tram stop about 10 minutes away. We went there. Nothing. We found a sign to a metro station and walked over to it and it had a tourist information booth. It was empty. (We assumed because it was Sunday evening.) There were machines that apparently sold the pass. However, the language selection function didn’t work and the screen would go blank after about 20 seconds. So we tried a few times to translate as we went and then gave up. We planned to return on Monday. As we were walking out we found a sign that explained that due to COVID you needed a code that registered your card to you and gave instructions (in English!) to get them. We went home, got the code, logged into the app and tried again. Nope. That did work either.

The codes in the app were limited to numbers and ours were alphanumeric. Which brings us to Monday morning. We returned to the station hoping that there would be someone in the tourist booth, but yet again, no luck. We found a guard and asked him. In broken English he said you have buy the card from the IstanbullKart office, which was a few doors down. We found it easily, because it was the place with the line out the door. After about 30 minutes, we were able to purchase the cards and were informed that the card had no balance. To load it, we needed to go back to the station (technically we could load it at any station or tram stop, but the metro station was the closest place). We went back to the station, and tried our luck at filling the card. We were really lucky because after we tried and failed a couple of times, a mann wandered up and was waiting to refill his card. We stepped aside, figuring we would watch him and mimic those steps. He was kind enough to see that we were idiot tourists and showed us how to do it. Hurrah! We could now ride the transit system – at a discounted rate! The tram costs only about 3T₺ (we think).

Tuesday we took the tram (using our InstanbulKarts!) and visited the Turkish Archeological museum. The museum has three buildings. The main one has three floors, the other two are single story. Unfortunately, while the two smaller buildings were both fully open, only the ground floor of the main building was accessible as the others were undergoing renovation. The museum is really well done and houses an enormous collection of ancient statutes, sarcophagi, friezes and other antiquities. The main building’s collection is all from Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, with quite a bit from an excavation in Sidon (in what is now Lebanon). The other two buildings housed collections from Egypt/Babalyonia and Turkish ceramics. It was very impressive and well worth the visit. We purchased the audio tour (4T₺) and while almost all the signs were in both Turkish and English, it was worth having.

Tuesday was also our wedding anniversary, and we had a nice (early) dinner at a Mexican place called Los Altos which had a beautiful view overlooking the Golden Horn (thanks again Dana!). We spent the rest of evening the listening to the Bebop Project at a local jazz club which is about 3 minutes’ walk (uphill of course – both ways) from our AirBnb. It was wonderful.

Wednesday morning we headed for the Süleymaniye Mosque. It was about 25 minutes away on the top of one of the hills of Istanbul. We took the metro for the first time (using our IstanbulKarts again!). I think it took us longer to get down to the trains than the train took for the couple of stops we were on it. The metro is a DEEP subway system. I assume it is because Istanbul is built on hills and the trains run relatively flat, but I am not sure. Suffice to say the next escalator down had a sign over the top saying “Abandon hope all ye who enter.” When we left the metro, we walked (uphill, of course) to the mosque complex. It is only the third or fourth most famous mosque in Istanbul, but is was still extremely impressive. I am not including any of our photos as our amateur ones do not do the place justice. Please look at the photos in the link above.

After wandering out of the complex, we headed for a coffee shop that Dana (Sue’s friend) suggested. The directions were (I am paraphrasing); exit the back of the complex, go across the alley, head down a sketchy looking hallway, up the rickety stairs and the café is there. We followed the directions and found a rooftop café. We have no idea if it was the right one or not, but who cares. The place had huge windows and we had a great view from the Golden Horn looking back on the area where we are staying which is called Beyoğlu (it also had a roof deck, but it was a bit too chilly to eat outside).  We ordered the Turkish breakfast, which was enough food for a small (or not so small) army. It included:

I liken this to having the entire brunch buffet on your table.

bread

french toast

simit (a Turkish bagel)

Two types of jam, honey & nutella

harissa

five types of cheese

cucumbers and tomatoes

two eggs

some sort of processed meat product that was vaguely smoky

hot dogs

french fries

spring rolls (which are like blintzes but made with filo dough)

and a pot of tea.

We also ordered coffee, because we didn’t think it through. We ate and ate and ate, and barely made a dent in the food.

After we finished we headed back on the metro, took it one extra stop and walked an extra kilometer or two to allow some of the food to digest, before we sat down to work. Needless to say, we had a very light dinner of yogurt, fruit and nuts.

On the road again

Today, tomorrow and Saturday are all travel days. Today we drove from Clamecy to Valence and tomorrow we drive to Nice. Saturday we are off to Istanbul.

We have spent the month driving our trusty ride, a Dacia Sandero, all over France. For those of you who have never heard of Dacia, it is a Romanian subsidiary of Renault. We got the car through a program called Auto-TT. For reasons that I don’t really understand there is an incentive to car companies to create short-term leases to non-EU citizens. The leases are tax free as long as they are 21 day or more. For us, it was significantly cheaper than a rental car and allowed us both to drive it. Per the terms of the lease, we “own” the car the for the period of the lease and then simply return it to Renault. Renault provided all the insurance.

A quick recap of our travels included this month:

Paris to Clamecy; Clamecy to Chambery (the Alps); Clamecy to Brugge, Brussel & Chimay (Belgium); Clamecy to Dijon (Mustard); Clamecy to Strasborg (the German border); and now Clamecy to Nice (Côte d’Azur). All in, about 5,000 kilometers (about 3,000 miles).

We have noticed a few things about driving here:

  • The majority of the highways are toll roads and they are relatively expensive. The drive to Strasborg cost about €50 ($60) in tolls.
  • Gasoline is very very very expensive compared to the US. The average litre of gas has been about €1.70 ($7.50 per gallon).
  • The country is much hillier that I expected. We are routinely going up or down 7% grades.
  • The roads seem to be either highways (A roads) or two lane “country” roads.
  • There are rotaries (traffic circles? roundabouts? rond points) everywhere. In Paris, the cars entering the rotaries have the right of way over those in the rotary; everywhere I have ever driven, the driver in the rotary has the right of way.
  • When approaching an intersection, the person on the right has the right of way, unless they have yield or stop sign. That means that if you are on a main road and someone on a side street doesn’t have a traffic sign, you have to let them in.
  • I had forgotten how much I enjoyed driving a manual transmission car.
  • With the exception of a faulty front radar sensor, the car performed admirably.

We had one recurring issue when driving – buying gas. For some reason, virtually none of the gas stations would accept our credit cards. I checked with our banks and they both insisted that the gas stations were declining the transactions before it was passed to the bank for approval. We ended up using a debit card, which worked everywhere, but at the supermarket. We had the very odd experience of paying for groceries with a card, then having the same card be declined trying to buy gas outside the store. Very odd. When we used the debit card, they initially put a charge of $345 on the card, but then adjusted it to the actual amount in a couple of days.

Tomorrow we will complete our drive to Nice, and then return the car to Renault.

Saturday morning we hop an Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul.

Into the Alps

We headed out Friday morning for a town called Chambéry. It is about 4 hours southeast of us and in the heart of the French Alps. For those of you who are fans of the Olympics, it is an hour north of Grenoble (1968) and an hour and a half west of Albertville (1992). Once we arrived, we did as we always do and wandered the town. For some reason there is a giant fountain of elephants in the main square. I will leave it to you to investigate why.

On Saturday morning, we went for a stroll in the market and then headed out for our day’s main activity, a “leisurely” 11.5km (7.2 mile) hike that we found on AllTrails called Circuit of the Bridges. It was in a small village called Saint-Jean-d’Arvey about 10km away. I neglected to notice that it was also 335m (1,000ft) higher than Chambéry.  For those of you who do not know me, I am very skittish when it comes to heights. Driving up and down mountain roads is at best difficult and at worst has me wanting to curl up in the back seat and whimper – even when driving. So the ride up to the trailhead was a little unnerving, but we made it.

The trail started at 600m (2,000ft) and was easy to find, but AllTrails states that the elevation gain is 450m (1,500 feet) which is well within our limits; afterall, we climbed Toubkal in Morocco, which was 16km and 2,500m (8,000ft) in elevation gain – just to the base camp. However, that was 4 years ago, and we had not been sedentary for 18 months due to the pandemic. I found the hike quite difficult. It started by dropping 250m to a single span wooden bridge over a deep ravine. (Oh yeah! Walking across a wooden bridge with a terrible fear of heights! ) I took a deep breath and pressed on. (He’s very brave.) I even stopped for Sue (who has no fear of anything and is a hiking machine) to take a photo of me – I am attempting to smile.

From that point it was an all-uphill hike to about 700 meters (2,300 ft). We had a picnic lunch along the trail and then climbed up and down the ravines.  We made a detour of about 1.5km when we followed an incorrect sign on the path. (Oops! It said Thoiry, but we didn’t notice it also said “the long way.”) The village of Thoiry is about halfway through the hike. We had hiked almost 8km (5 miles) and I was done. Sue graciously agreed to cut short the hike and we took a couple of short cuts and ended back at our car in Saint-Jean-d’Arvey after about 12km (7.5 miles), a bit longer than the original hike length. I still don’t understand how we cut the hike in half and took a shortcut, but still hiked longer than the original long route. Faulty GPS, faulty AllTrails, faulty us? Over the entire walk we saw perhaps 10 people, so it was just us, our cameras and our thoughts. Enough words…Here are photos

Sunday we decided to go to Grenoble to look around. We started by visiting the Resistance Museum. It was very well done (and free, but they did not have a “Viva la Resistance t-shirt — disappointing) and we spent about an hour in it. Afterwards we wandered into the old part of town and were terribly disappointed. Nothing was open (ach, dimanche!) and we just didn’t see anything of any interest. We walked back to the car and headed home.

Google says it is a 4-hour drive on the highway; we drove to Lyon on the highway, stopped for some lunch on the highway and made the grand decision that we were in no hurry to get home. Steven neglects to mention that we took the highway hoping that the rest stops were open since there was no other way to get food on Sunday. We told Google to find us a way home without the highways and off we went on a scenic tour of France. Boy do the French love roundabouts (des rond points). We hit one every kilometer or so. After a few hours we decided to head to a medieval city called Beaune that one of our friends said was pretty (also it is the wine capital of Burgundy). By the time we got there, it was about 7pm and we once again had a wander. (Restaurants were open. Viva la tourisme!) The place was packed with tourists and after about 45 minutes we had enough.

Once back in the car, we decided to go back on the highway and covered the last 130km in about 90 minutes. It was nearly 9pm by the time we got home. A long but very fun day.

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.

Kickoff to Travel Season

We mentioned that we were going to New York for Steven’s 40th (plus 20) birthday. Well, things didn’t turn out exactly the way we planned, but do they ever?

We took the long way to New York, via Mechanicsburg, PA, because my amazing, wonderful mother-in-law (OMG! She is such a suck up!) was in Maryland for Steven’s family birthday dinner. We were excited she was able to make it and didn’t mind the extra leg at all.

Now, let’s get to the weather. Memorial Day weekend? It was more like Thanksgiving weekend. Rain, drizzle, damp, cold and guess who forgot her raincoat. Sigh. When we are in NY, we tend to wander. Overprepared Steven had two warm jackets (and a raincoat that he gallantly gave to his wife), so I borrowed one and we braved the weather.

We stayed in Chinatown at Hotel 50 Bowery (I will leave the hotel review for another day) at the base of the Manhattan Bridge, so Friday night we ate at Shanghai Asian Cuisine. You have to have soup dumplings at least once or Steven does since they are meat-filled. Like most restaurants in Chinatown, don’t expect fancy, but do expect delicious, plentiful food. We were not disappointed. Everyone in Chinatown is still wearing masks. Restaurants have set up outdoor booths in the street (yes in the street, which if you know anything about Chinatown, you know are barely wide enough for cars as it is), some conveniently covered, and they take your temperature before you sit. There is plexiglass, plastic or a shower curtain between every table.

After dinner, we went to the Basement, which bills itself as a carnival-themed speakeasy, but was really just a bar with a nice atmosphere and delicious cocktails. We definitely skewed the age curve (most people were younger than my clothes). No temperature-taking, no separations between tables, just masks while walking around.

Saturday we wandered to REI to rectify my lack of rainwear. As luck would have it, they were having their annual sale. Rain jacket 30% off. Perfect. Steven got a couple of shirts and we may have purchased a stuffed bear for a certain small someone. Next, pizza for lunch, of course, followed by more wandering. That night, we had a wonderful Italian dinner with Uncle David and Aunt Marcella, who are always gracious when we are in town. We always enjoy the evening with them.

Citi Field. We will get there some day

Sunday, we hit another Chinatown spot for lunch, Deluxe Green Bo. Steven’s favorite part was that when we checked our temperatures, the results were spoken in an Australian accent. Afer lunch we went to the Guggenheim. Maybe we are old and cranky (and we were soaked because it was still raining), but they had an exhibit that was basically a long podcast, which we felt we didn’t have to shlep up- and crosstown to hear. We did mostly enjoy it, however. It’s just a pleasure to be able to go to a museum at all (masks required). All day we checked and rechecked the weather because we had tickets to the Mets-Braves game. Neither of us have never been to Citifield. I know, crazy, right! Alas, it wasn’t to be. We had pretty much decided not to go since it was cold and rainy, but at least we lucked out in that the game was postponed so we didn’t waste money on the tickets. Instead, we had a birthday dinner for Steven at The Warren in the West Village. The food and drink were spot-on. It’s clear that restaurants are still trying to adjust to people being able to go out as the service was a bit slow, but we were enjoying ourselves and in no hurry. I would recommend it. (Best part…the dessert arrived before the hostess could arrange for a candle, so she brought the candle separately lit it and held it while I blew it out.)

Happily for Steven, Monday’s weather was beautiful. Sadly for me, that meant I had to go to a Yankees game. I know I am biased, but the stadium did not impress and the food was typical 1970s stadium fare. Boooooo! BTW, the Yankees lost to Tampa 3-1 and I wore my Mets hat the whole time. Steven took the loss in stride as always. What a good sport. The game was over by 4 and we hit the road for the 3 1/2 hour uneventful drive home.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention: On Friday, I got an email from my friend (the one who got us thinking about our crazy adventures by telling us it was cheap to live in Burgundy) saying that she has a friend who needs an apartment-sitter for August in Paris. Um, YES! So, instead of leaving for France on August 30, we are leaving on July 27 and spending a month in the 16th arrondissement and environs. Paris nous voilà!

I will leave the verdict on the birthday weekend up to Steven, but I think it was a smashing success! (I absolutely agree, especially since I did not have to endure the Mets game!)

Packing (Extra) Light

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!

Infographic: The U.S. Airlines Cashing In The Most On Baggage Fees | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

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 sweater
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 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.

Any suggestions? All are welcome.

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.

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. 😉

I Love My Dog, But…

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Here’s the ball; what are you waiting for????

Who doesn’t love their dog? Rosie has been part of the family for 9 of her 10 years. She’s a little (little is not a word we should be using with Rosie – in any context) crazy in a German shepherd way, but she’s loyal and she gets me out of the house even when it is -5 degrees outside. The biggest problems with dear, sweet Rosie is that she doesn’t get along with other dogs and has never spent a night anywhere but our house since we got her. This makes travel, which I finally am more free to do, difficult. I can’t leave her in a kennel or with a dog-sitter who has other dogs.

I am happy to say that my son has a life and although he can help me out some of the time, he can’t do it every time I think I want to take a break. A few weeks ago, I couldn’t take the weather or the few-block radius that I live in when I hunker down. I had the brilliant idea of a weekend staycation. I looked for hotels and events and then … I remembered we have a dog! That was the end of the staycation.

img_20190303_195449859-1I have even toyed with the idea of finding a cabin that accepts pets, but Rosie is a 75-pound, barking pet with a nervous stomach, so I am reluctant to try it in case it’s a disaster. Besides, it reminds me of when I would travel with my son when he was little and I would spend many hours trapped in the hotel room for naps and bedtime. I would either have to take Rosie everywhere or leave her in her crate, where she only spends time if we’re having a party and there’s likely to be easily stolen food. Rosie needs a fenced-in yard because she’s outside, she’s inside, she’s outside, she’s inside (and that was just in the last 10 minutes). I can’t imagine her trapped in a small space without a door to whine out for outside access.

Plus, as you can see from the photo above, Rosie is used to making herself comfortable (on Steven’s side of the bed). I know I am a sucker, but I don’t think she’s suddenly going to turn into one of those dogs on an SUV commercial who hops out of the car ready to hike a mountain off her leash. Rosie would love the hike, but bark furiously at everything around her and try to chase every animal from a squirrel to a mountain lion if she encountered one. She’s 10 now, so she might not get very far, but she certainly would not stick valiantly to my side, trot a few paces and wait for me to catch up.

Pets are fabulous and I can’t imagine life without one, but she’s definitely put a crimp in my wanderlust.