Oops! Did We Do That? Our Biggest Travel Mistakes

As Steve and I prepared to travel full-time, we knew that we would make mistakes. Fortunately, we have been able to keep them to a minimum, partly due to luck, partly due to the graciousness of others, and partly because we spent more than half a year under lockdown.

Here are the biggest travel mistakes and near-misses we had during our first three years of full-time travel.

All money is in U.S. dollars unless otherwise stated.

The Schengen What?

We weren’t prepared for our first near-miss to happen before we even left the U.S. We only had three months to go before we set out for our travels when we first heard of the Schengen Area. We discovered that we were only allowed to spend 90 days in this group of 26 countries and would then have to leave the Schengen Area for at least 90 days.

Cue the cold sweats. We had already booked three months’ worth of nonrefundable stays in Barcelona and Paris. I broke out the calendar and started counting the days. Then I let out a huge sigh of relief. We had booked a total of 89 days!

The fact that we had procrastinated in deciding on our destination after Paris saved us. We had been considering Prague. If we had booked a month-long stay there or anywhere else in the Schengen Area through Airbnb, we would have lost that money.

Stay on the Bus

We started our journey on a Transatlantic cruise from Florida to Barcelona. One of our ports-of-call was Funchal, Portugal. We were looking forward to riding the famous wicker toboggans there. Here is a video of that exhilarating experience.

Being new to foreign travel, we decided to buy hop-on-hop-off tickets through the cruise company even though it was more expensive than doing it on our own.

We got on the bus, and at the second stop, we saw the sign for the gondola leading to the toboggans, so we hopped off the bus.

We marveled at the scenery as we rode the gondola up the mountain and had a thrilling toboggan ride. Then we spent close to an hour painstakingly making our way down a very steep hill while looking for another hop-on-hop-off bus stop. We never found one, but at least we got back to our ship.

We ended up spending $80 to go two stops on the bus.

View of garden and mountains in Funchal
We did get to spend some time enjoying the Madeira Botanical Garden during our day in Funchal.
They Weren’t Kidding About Barcelona

When you repeatedly hear that you are in the pickpocket capital of the world, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY!

Just a week into our stay in Barcelona, Steve was pickpocketed on a metro car. He thought his wallet and passport would be safe in his front pants pocket. It was not.

This mistake was more costly in time and frustration than in money. It involved treks to three police stations and a trip to the U.S. Consulate. You can read all the juicy details in Pickpocketed in Barcelona and get some helpful hints, so you don’t become a victim.

The thieves got away with Steve’s passport, several bank cards, and 40 Euro (about $48). Luckily Steve’s passport was found, which saved us the $145 replacement fee. Our bank cards were replaced within a few days, and our credit card company denied the $900 shoe purchase the thieves attempted.

Buyer Beware

By the second month of our travels, we thought we had SIM cards all figured out. After getting off the plane in Paris, we headed to the post office, which was in the airport, and spent 40 Euros (about $48) on 2 SIM cards. The man who helped us did not speak English, and we do not speak French. Even so, we managed to get our SIM cards installed.

We soon discovered that they were only good for making calls and didn’t include data. We replaced them with less expensive cards that had everything we needed. Even though we never used them, we carried them around for several months until we finally threw them away.

Read the Train Ticket (Read it Well)

The most costly mistake in our first year of travel involved the Eurostar train from Paris to London. We were heading to London with our daughter Laura and her friend. I had arranged for all of us to get there via the Chunnel.

Our experience with train travel was limited to two short journeys within France. In both cases, we showed up at the station about fifteen minutes before our train was scheduled to leave. There were no security checks, and no one asked to see our tickets. These two experiences made us lackadaisical about the train trip to London.

Armed with our Chunnel tickets, the four of us traveled from Strasbourg to Paris without any problem. We arrived at the Paris station with an hour and a half to spare before our train to London would leave, so we went out for a delicious breakfast. We arrived back at the train station to find that we had missed the check-in time for our journey and we would have to book a later one. The cost was $230.

I had neglected to read the fine print on the tickets that clearly stated the check-in cutoff time. As one lady pointed out, the train was entering a different country so, the requirements were similar to airline travel.

Actually, I believe the difference was that we were leaving the Schengen Area, which allows for movement among the 26 Schengen countries without border checks. The United Kingdom is not part of the Schengen Area.

Luckily the trains from Paris to London run every hour, so it didn’t set us back too much time-wise, but our wallet sure wasn’t happy. In addition to reading the ticket, in the future, we will check in as soon as possible and then eat.

A large statue of Jeff Goldblum with the Tower Bridge in the background
It’s not every day you get to see a bigger-than-life Jeff Goldblum and the Tower Bridge in one place.
A Near-Miss with Booking.com

We were able to avoid another costly mistake thanks to the goodwill of Booking.com. We had booked an Airbnb for a one-month stay in Strasbourg, France. The host canceled the reservation only eleven days before we were due to arrive.

It was the height of the tourist season, and we were not having any luck finding a place to stay for a whole month. We were able to piece together three hotels through Booking.com that would provide housing for a month. Then we found an Airbnb that was available for the month. We canceled two of the hotel reservations in time but missed the third by one day. This would have been our most costly mistake at $934.

We requested that they waive the fee, saying we had overbooked. We were so thankful when we woke up the next morning to find that Booking.com had waived the penalty.

The Ponts Couvert on Strasbourg, France
The Ponts Couvert in Strasbourg
Know the Paris Metro Rules

Our daughter Laura and her friend visited us in Strasbourg and then traveled with us to London. From there, they spent another week in Dublin and Paris. During their trip to the Paris airport to fly home, they learned that if you travel enough, something will trip you up.

They chose to take the Metro from their hostel to the airport. The Metro Police stopped them and told them they did not have the proper tickets for the zone they were in. The cost of this innocent mistake was $80 each.

A word of warning for Paris travelers: the Paris Metro Police are vigilant. Be sure you keep your ticket on you for the entire journey and understand the zones and related fares.

We Can Tell Time, Really

All the above mistakes happened before and during our first year of travel. In 2019, our second year of travel, we had only one costly mistake. To this day, we aren’t sure how it happened.

Steve and I had made reservations to fly from Buenos Aires to Cordoba. As always, we both checked the details before we finalized our purchase. The day before our flight, I was reviewing all our travel details when I did a double-take. Our flight wasn’t at 9 a.m., it was at 9 p.m!

We could have taken that flight, but that would have meant landing in a new city close to midnight. And we would have had to spend a whole day in Buenos Aires with all our luggage and nowhere to stay.

Changing the flight left us $175 poorer. To add insult to injury, the change fee was $60 higher than the original cost of the flight.

It’s All Worth It

Let’s face it, mistakes happen. That’s life. Why would travel life be any different? Considering that we’ve traveled to 42 cities in the past three years, I think we did a pretty good job. We made all our flights, only missed one train reservation, always had a place to stay in advance, and never went hungry. We also had luck on our side.

Steve and I would love to hear about mistakes you have made while traveling. Come on; I’m sure you have a few. 😀

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

Featured image by Estee Janssens on Unsplash.com

This post was originally published on April 20, 2019.

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The Amazing Amaru Bioparque: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

If you enjoy hiking and love animals, Cuenca, Ecuador, has the perfect place for you. It’s the Amaru Bioparque. You can spend hours there, working your way up and down the side of a mountain as you visit hundreds of species of animals.

Steve and I were delighted with Amaru Bioparque when we visited Cuenca in 2019. We spent a total of eight hours there over two days. We have many fond memories of our ten months in Latin America, and this was among our favorites. You can read about them in Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences.

What is Amaru Bioparque?

It is a sanctuary for animals that have been rescued and, despite rehabilitation, cannot be returned to the wild. At Amaru, these animals can live out their lives in a natural environment.

Amaru receives about 450 animals every year. They come from illegal hunting, illegal trafficking of species, seizures by the National Police, and donations by civilians. The large number of animals received at Amaru is because it is the only wildlife clinic in the south of the country.

From the Amaru Bioparque website:
“We are an environmental zoological organization that offers a unique experience with the animals and plants that are a part of Ecuador´s natural and cultural richness. We promote and run education, communication, recreation, and research programs to foster the conservation of Ecuador’s biodiversity.”

The setting is rustic. You will hike over 2 km of dirt paths carved into the side of a mountain as you learn about the animals and their habitats. You will traverse hills and less-than-ideal steps cut into the dirt. Sturdy shoes are a must.

A dirt path surrounded by vegetation in Amaru Bioparque
This is a typical path in the park.

There are many signs throughout the park with information about the animals and their native environments. When we visited, most of the signs were in Spanish, but a few had English translations. The lack of English wasn’t a problem. We could understand quite a bit, and when we couldn’t, we used Google Translate.

Arriving at Amaru

Amaru is located about 5 miles (7 km) from the historic center of Cuenca.  It is easy to get to the park via car or taxi. The round trip cost for taxis was US$12.00 in 2019. When you are finished with your visit, the ticket booth attendant can arrange a taxi for you.

You can also get near the park by bus, but you will have quite an uphill walk before you reach the entrance. I recommend a taxi over a bus.

You will probably want to take a few minutes to enjoy the views of the city as you enter the park.

When you arrive, you should receive a map. Pay attention to it. It shows the path through the park. On our first visit, Steve and I failed to do this. After about an hour and a half, we looked at the map and realized that we were only a quarter of the way through. Since it was late afternoon by that time, we backtracked our way to the entrance.

Map of Amaru Bioparque

Here is the link to the map on the website.

We returned two weeks later so we could see the rest of the park. Now older and wiser, we arrived early in the morning and paid more attention to the map.

You cannot take food, pets, or large bags into the park. I was allowed to take my backpack because it was small, but it had to be inspected first. There is a place about halfway along the trail where you can buy drinks and snacks. There are some restrooms as well.

Some of the Animals You Will See
Andean Bear

One of the first animals you will encounter is the Andean or Spectacled Bear. The six Andean Bears that currently live in Amaru have a habitat that is greater than 37,000 sq. ft. (3,500 sq. meters). They are solitary animals. We only saw one each time we visited.

Andean or Spectacled Bear in Amaru Bioparque

White Capuchin Monkey

You can see these adorable monkeys (the park has four) traveling through wire tubes set among the trees. There is no guarantee you won’t get an unwanted shower.

A White Capuchin Monkey in a wire tube holding a plastic bottle
Squirrel Monkey

Delightful squirrel monkeys roam free in the park. As you might expect, they love to hang around the restaurant area, but I didn’t see them bothering anyone.

Photos of two spider monkeys in bushes

Capybara

The park has five capybaras, the largest rodent in the world. I always love seeing them.

Close up of a capybara with its eyes closed

Cuchucho

This cuchucho is a native to Lain America and is not threatened.

Oncilla

This little cutie is a Latin American native and the smallest feline in Ecuador.

African Lion

As we worked our way through the park, we saw many familiar animals and many we had never heard of. But the most unexpected was the African Lion. After all, this is a park dedicated to preserving Ecuadorian biodiversity.

It turns out that Amaru currently has nine African Lions. Here is the story of two of them.

A female lion seen through a fence

Birds of the Tropical Aviary

The tropical aviary was a delight, with colorful, inquisitive birds everywhere. The birds are free within the aviary, and it was fun to watch the White-Throated Toucan hop along a fence.

Four photos of tropical birds
Five of the many tropical birds you can visit with including a Blue-Headed Parrot (upper left) and White-Throated Toucan (lower left).
Andean Condor

He may not be pretty, but this native of the Andes provides a useful service as a scavenger. The Andean Condor is one of the largest flying birds in the world. His wingspan can reach over 10 ft (3.3 m). The condor is the national bird of Ecuador and even graces its flag. Amaru has two Andean Condors, a male and a female.

An Andean Condor looking down from his cage

Carunculated Caracara

This bird of prey is a native of Ecuador and lives in parts of the Andes Mountains.

A Carunculated Caracara at Amaru Bioparque

African Clawed Frog or Ghost Frog

These are natives of Africa who were brought to Ecuador as pets. I loved watching them float gracefully, as you can see in this video:

American Bullfrog

These bullfrogs are native to North America and are an invasive species in Ecuador.

Two American Bullfrogs in a vegetation filled pond

Emerald Tree Boa

Snakes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but this boa is non-poisonous and looks pretty chill.

An Emerald Tree Boa resting on a tree branch

I hope you enjoyed meeting just a few of the many species of animals that call Amaru Bioparque home.

The Amaru Bioparque website has a lot of information about the animals in its care. The site has an option for English, but it didn’t work on all the pages. I found it best to Google “Amaru Bioparque” and choose “Translate This Page” so you get every page in English.

Helpful Hints

As of this writing, the park appears to be open. It is open every day except Christmas day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. As always, you should verify this information before visiting.

A visit to Amaru is a real bargain. It costs US$ 6.00 for an adult. There are discounts for people under 18 and over 65. The U.S. dollar is the official currency of Ecuador.

In addition to sturdy shoes or boots, be sure to have sunblock and a hat or umbrella (it is Ecuador, after all).

The park is not wheelchair accessible or stroller friendly.

It is best to avoid visiting for a few days after a heavy rain. The paths can become slippery.

The Amaru website suggests you allow 2 hours for your visit. Other articles recommend 4-6 hours. I don’t think 2 hours is anywhere near long enough. We visited twice and spent a total of 8 hours.

The website lists several educational demonstrations that take place on weekends and holidays. I cannot comment on them since both our visits were on weekdays. Also, I would assume that the demonstrations are in Spanish.

A Volunteer Opportunity

If Amaru is your type of place, you may want to look into volunteering there. They require a minimum two-week commitment. Wouldn’t that be a fulfilling experience? You can find information about volunteering on the website under Support Us.

Have you been to Amaru Bioparque? We’d love to hear what you thought about it in the comments below.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

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Laundry on the Road: Challenges of Nomad Life

What’s the biggest challenge of nomad life? The language barrier? Missing family and friends back home? Boring footwear? Yes, yes, and yes. But perhaps the biggest challenge is laundry.

As a full-time traveler, I have dealt with possessed washers, a myriad of drying setups, and excess laundry soap issues.

I have learned that clothes dryers are not common outside of the U.S. You can read about clothes drying differences in this article by Real Simple.

Five pair of jeans hanging on a clothesline
As a nomad, you never know where you might end up hanging your clothes. Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash.com.

But I have not learned how to determine the correct amount of detergent for each machine, so I usually end up running them through a second time without detergent.

Here is a recap of our laundry experiences in our first three years of full-time travel. Future nomads, you’ve been warned.

We spent most of 2018 in Europe, and Barcelona was the first city we visited. As we checked out our apartment, Steve said, “Isn’t there supposed to be a washing machine?”

We didn’t see one in the apartment, so I sent a message to our Airbnb hosts. They replied, “the washing machine is in (sic) the roof.” A quick check told us that yes, it was indeed “in the roof.”

Our hosts stopped by to show us how it worked, and it seemed simple enough. But that washer had it in for me. I would press button after button, but it wouldn’t start. However, if I unplugged it and plugged it back in, we were good to go.

Our second city was Paris. The city of lights and high prices. Our apartment was too tiny for a washing machine, so we used the laundromat down the street. I know it was Paris, but $80 to do laundry for one month still seems expensive to me.

These first two experiences taught us to make sure that any apartment we rent not only has a washer but that it is inside the apartment.

The downside of nomad life is that you must constantly adapt. The upside is that you don’t have to deal with any inconvenience too long and, most importantly, you aren’t the one responsible when something breaks.

We were staying at a large building on the Black Sea coast in Byala, Bulgaria. It was after tourist season, and we had the entire building to ourselves (think The Shining without the snow). I started a load of laundry, and the washer immediately started leaking. And by leaking, I mean gushing. Suds quickly covered the kitchen. I shut it off, and we commenced cleanup.

Our host had the perfect solution. He told us to use the washer in the apartment next door. The door was unlocked, so we were able to walk right in and finish our laundry. Don’t you love it when things work out so easily?

Everything went well for the rest of the year until we got to Lisbon.

We spent two weeks on a sailboat, so we did not have a washer. No problem. There was a laundromat a short walk away. It was spotless and had brand new appliances. And we were the only ones there.

I confidently tossed a Tide Pod in each machine, threw the laundry in them, and sat down. Then I noticed a sign that said “Do not add soap, it is included” taped over the soap dispenser. Oops.

By the time we got to Latin America in 2019, we had the whole laundry thing down pretty well. All of our apartments had a washing machine. A few of them had a dryer. Those that didn’t had either a drying rack or a place to hang them outside, except in the Galápagos Islands.

Because the choice of apartments in our price range was slim and none of them included a washer, we figured we would go to a laundromat. But as we explored the town of Puerto Ayora, we didn’t see any laundromats. We did see several signs for lavanderias, places where your laundry is done for you.

I felt odd delivering a bag of dirty clothes to a stranger, which is funny since I am no stranger to dry cleaning. I was also concerned that we might not get our own clothes back.  So I made a list of everything we dropped off.

I’m happy to report all of our clothes were returned to us clean and fresh at a cost of $8 per week. Now I want this service in every city.

Our regular readers will be familiar with our prolonged stay in Bansko, Bulgaria, in early 2020 because of Steve’s skiing accident. When he left the hospital, we moved to a holiday resort outside of town since it was the only place I could find where he could be brought in on a stretcher. You can read about those experiences in Hospitalized in Bulgaria and Bansko, Bulgaria, Not The Trip We’d Hoped For.

The resort provided a laundry service which consisted of filling one large bag with laundry for a set fee. If memory serves, it cost $US30 for one bag of laundry.

Because we have very few clothes, I didn’t think it would be worth the cost. I probably wouldn’t even fill half the bag. So frugal me decided to wash by hand.

It was a good thing Steve was bedridden since every available surface outside of the bedroom was covered in sopping wet clothes. I learned how effective towel warmers and radiators could be for drying.

A white bathroom with a shiny silver towel warmer
A towel warmer like the silver one in this photo does a great job of drying clothes. Photo by midascode on Pixabay.com.

Once we were able to move on from Bansko, we headed to Budapest. Our first Airbnb had a washer in the bathroom. Just a few minutes into the first cycle, it started to do a lively dance across the floor and proceeded to knock the toilet bowl to the side. Because why would anyone actually bolt the toilet to the floor?

Steve took a look and discovered that the transportation bolts had not been removed. Even after he removed them, it still jumped. Even after a plumber supposedly fixed it, it still jumped.

So I developed a routine. I would start the washer, set a timer, and run to the machine as each spin cycle started so that I could hold the machine in place.

As if that wasn’t fun enough, after I washed the first load of clothes, I looked for a place to dry them. I didn’t see a drying stand. There wasn’t a towel dryer in the bathroom. The shower curtain rod was too weak and too high to be of any help. I even looked on the interior balcony hoping to find a clothesline, but there was nothing. I messaged the host, and he delivered a drying stand the following day. To this day, I wonder where the guests that came before us dried their clothes.

A clothes drying rack with blue shirts
I have come to prefer drying this way over an electric dryer: fewer wrinkles and no rush to put the clothes away.

After seven months in the Budapest apartment, we moved across town. We are still in this apartment riding out the pandemic.

I’m happy to report that the washer in the new apartment is well-behaved. No dancing! And it has a drying stand and a towel warmer. There was even a nearly full bottle of laundry soap with an adorable bear on the front. Everything was going well on the laundry front. Our clothes looked good. They smelled good. And they were really soft.

After several weeks the detergent bottle was approaching empty. I showed it to Steve so he could buy a new one. He then discovered that I had been “washing” our clothes in fabric conditioner. Oops.

No doubt, our laundry challenges will continue once we resume our travels. Laundry challenges are just one example of how full-time travel doesn’t mean full-time fun. But I am willing to put up with laundry frustrations if it means I can continue to explore this big, beautiful world.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

Featured image by Elena Rabkina on Unsplash.com

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12 Things You’ll Love Doing In Cuenca, Ecuador

In June 2019, we were planning our next stop after Quito, Ecuador, when a new name came up. Cuenca. We had never heard of it. We decided to give it a try because some of the places we have enjoyed the most are the ones we had never heard of. We are glad we did.

After spending four weeks in Quito, Cuenca was a relaxing change. It is far less crowded, with about 330,000 people compared to 1.6 million in Quito. It has a lot of traffic, but not nearly as much as Quito, and the pollution is not as bad, although the older blue buses spew a considerable amount of black exhaust.

Over four weeks, we fell in love with the architecture, history, and natural beauty of Cuenca. Below are twelve things you can do in Cuenca that will hopefully make you fall in love with the charming city.

A Little About Cuenca
*Cuenca is Ecuador’s third-largest city after Guayaquil and the capital of Quito.
*The official name of the city is Santa Ana de los Cuatro Ríos de Cuenca. Cuatros Rios translates to four rivers. A nod to the fact that the city has four rivers.
*Cuenca is 292 miles (470 km) south of the capital of Quito.
*You can fly there from Quito inexpensively in less than one hour (we paid $US50 per person in 2019).
*Like Quito, Cuenca is nestled in the Andes Mountains and may require time to acclimate to the altitude of 8,400 feet (2,560 meters) if you are coming from a much lower elevation.
*The U.S. dollar is the official currency of Ecuador and has been since 2000. It is so nice not to have to worry about exchange rates or getting local currency.
*Very few of the people we met spoke English, but everyone was patient as we translated.
*Cuenca is a walkable city, and taxis are abundant and affordable.
*Cuenca is not far from the equator, so the temperatures don’t vary much throughout the year. Daily highs average 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius). Daily lows average 51 degrees Fahrenheit (~10 degrees Celsius).
*Apartments generally don’t have heat. We ended up buying a small space heater.
*There is also a small city in Spain named Cuenca.

Note: All money is in USD.

1. Hike Through Amaru Biopark

Amaru Biopark is much more than a zoo. This attraction is full of animals that have been rescued and, despite rehabilitation, cannot be returned to the wild.

You will hike over 2 km of dirt paths while learning about these animals. Be warned that the park is on the side of a mountain. You have to traverse hills and less-than-ideal steps cut into the dirt. Sturdy shoes are a must.

You should receive a map as you enter the park. Pay attention to it. It shows the path through the park. On our first visit, Steve and I failed to do this. After an hour and a half, we looked at the map and realized that we were only a quarter of the way through. Since it was late afternoon by that time, we backtracked our way to the entrance. We returned another day, and between our two visits we spent a total of eight hours in the park. There is so much to see.

Here are just a few of the many animals we enjoyed:

A Jaguar standing on a log
A beautiful jaguar
A bear standing by a pond
An Andean or Spectacled Bear
A Capuchin Monkey walking through a wire tunnel
Capuchin Monkeys move throughout the park through wire tunnels.

In addition to the Capuchin Monkeys frolicking above you, Squirrel Monkeys roam free in the park.

You can read about Amaru in more detail in The Amazing Amaru Bioparque.

2. Peruse Museo Pumapungo

At the edge of the old town, you will see two large grey, modern-looking buildings. One is the Banco Central Del Ecuador, and the other is the Museo Pumapungo (boy, is that fun to say).

Museo Pumapungo consists of a new and beautiful building filled with artifacts and displays highlighting Ecuador’s geographic regions. There are several things to see behind the museum, too, including the ruins of an Incan military post, a small botanical garden, and a bird rescue center.

Beware, there is no photography allowed in the museum. When we visited, most of the plaques were only in Spanish. Even though we have a translator on our phones, we did not feel comfortable using it since it would have looked like we were taking pictures.

For our second visit, we hired a guide (independent of the museum) who explained what we were looking at. We learned a lot in that two hours, and it was well worth the $35. It was interesting that the one section that was in English was about the indigenous Shuar and their head-shrinking practices and beliefs.

The ruins were underwhelming since, in the past, they were cannibalized by locals who took the stones to use as building material. But don’t skip this part. In addition to the botanical garden and aviary, on most days there is a herd of llamas lazily eating the grass. They are used to being photographed by the visitors.

A woman kneeling next to a llama
Hedgie and I making friends with one of the resident llamas.
3. Learn About Panama Hats at Homer Ortega Hats

Did you know that despite their name, Panama hats are not from Panama? They are from Ecuador. And Cuenca is one of the largest producers.

You can learn a lot about the history and production of Panama hats during a tour of the Homer Ortega Hat Factory.

A man working a machine in a hat factory and the finished product
Part of the hat making process and some of the finished product

And yes, I know, learning about hat making isn’t high on your bucket list. But the tour was interesting, and they have a killer showroom where you can pick out your very own Panama hat.

Hats in a display case
Not your typical Panama hats.
Panama Hat Fast Facts
*The hats are made of a straw called toquilla.
*The process of making the hats is on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
*The name “Panama hat” came about because Americans traveling through the Panama Canal to California during the Gold Rush often wore them.
*It was reinforced when President Teddy Roosevelt posed at the Panama Canal in 1906 while wearing one of the hats.
*The quality and price of a hat depend on the fineness of the weave and the intricacy of the pattern.
*The finest hats can take up to eight months to weave.
4. Marvel at the New Cathedral (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception)
Three bule and white domes on the New Cathedral
The domes

You can spot the three blue and white domes of the New Cathedral from many places in the city. The cathedral’s formal name is the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción). It is referred to as the New Cathedral because it is only a little over a century old. Construction on it began in 1885 and was completed in 1967.

Man and woman standing in front of the New Cathedral
Steve and me in front of the New Cathedral
Stained glass window and statues on the front of a cathedral
A close up of a part of the cathedral facing Parque Calderon

This is one of the largest cathedrals in Latin America, but it doesn’t have any bells. That is because there were supposed to be two towers on the cathedral. Because of structural issues, it was determined that the building could not support these towers, so they were never built. You can take the spiral stairs up to the roof for a small fee.

5. Stroll Along the Tomebamba River (Rio Tomebamba)

I’ll be the first to admit when I read a travel blog, and it says “stroll through (insert area here)” or “relax at (insert name of café here),” it feels like a cop-out.

However, I will make an exception for the pedestrian path that runs along the Tomebamba River in Cuenca. It holds a special place in my heart because we walked part of it many times to get from our apartment near Museo Pumapungo to the old town.

 

Three llamas lying in front of a fence
More llamas, these along the footpath

The section we walked starts on the north side of the river bank west of Av. Huayna-Capac. If you continue, you will eventually see stairways leading to a higher level. Take one of these to reach the Historic Center.

Looking up a steep stairway
One of the stairways you can take to get to the old town

There are many other places you can stroll along the river, including in Paradise Park (El Paraíso Park), and there are three other rivers to explore as well.

A fast-flowing river with a wooden walkway alongside it
One small part of the Tomebamba River, this part in Paradise Park.
6. Eat Cheap (or Not)

There seem to be two choices for dining out in Cuenca. You can go the inexpensive route, a small plain restaurant with traditional food at unbelievably low prices. Breakfast with juice and coffee is $2.50. Lunches are priced as low as $3.50 for soup, main dish, and drink. You will not get much ambiance at these restaurants. The second option is to go to a restaurant with ambiance. These cost more but are still reasonable by U.S. standards.

We visited one restaurant that stood head and shoulders above the rest:

Capitan

On our second to last night in Cuenca, we wanted to try somewhere new. We decided on Capitan, which was listed as the 5th best restaurant in Cuenca on Trip Advisor (and is #3 as of this writing).

We were underwhelmed when we arrived. The restaurant had four tables and could seat 16 people total. We considered looking for something else, but we were hungry, so we decided to stay.

And we were glad we did. This was one of the best meals we had during the three months we spent in Ecuador. It started with soft, aromatic garlic bread with an incredible garlicky mayo-like spread that I could have eaten for hours.

Next was a delectable shrimp ceviche, followed by sea bass (with crab meat for Steve, spinach for me). Add a Coke and three small glasses of wine, and the total with tip was $74.

Ceviche and popcorn
Incredible ceviche with the customary popcorn
Two plate sith fish, French fries, and vegetables
Our dinners, photos can’t do them justice

This meal was so enjoyable that we had an encore the next night. I wish we had discovered this gem at the beginning of our stay.

As good as the food is, it was not the best thing about this restaurant. The chef, who I also believe is the owner, was very welcoming and accommodating. He translated the menu for us and checked with us throughout our meal. You don’t usually see that in Latin America or Europe.

Capitan is at Tomás Ordóñez 6-76. The restaurant is small, so it is best to make reservations.

D’Galia Peru 

This restaurant also served fabulous ceviche along with other tasty dishes loaded with meat and vegetables. While the experience wasn’t as memorable as at Capitan, this is also an excellent place for a more upscale meal. It is along the Rio Tomebamba, not far from the Iglesias Santa Maria Del Vergel.

Three plates of Peruvian food
The food at D’Galia – so good and so good looking

The cost for this visit was $60. We visited again with two friends from Korea. The total for four of us was only $80.

D’Galia is at Av 12 de Abril 1-23 y Las Herrerías.

Fondue Garden

I had read about Fondue Garden somewhere and thought it would be a nice change of pace. And it was. We enjoyed a few meals there, including cheese fondue and chocolate fondue.

Chocolate fondue with items to dip
Chocolate fondue for dinner. Why not?

When we arrived the first time, we were greeted by Bonnie, a co-owner from the U.K. She made us feel very welcome, and it was nice to hear some proper English.

The restaurant has a second-floor patio that overlooks the Rio Tomebamba and the bridge named Puente Juana de Oro.

Fondue Garden is more moderately priced than Capitan or D’Galia. Our lunch with beverages and a tip was $35.

It is located at Paseo 3 de Noviembre y Escalinatas.

Man sitting at a table looking at a river
Steve at Fondue Garden

Now that I’ve shared six things that made us fall in love with Cuenca and made your mouth water, here are six more things to do in and around the city.

7. Take a Hop-On-Hop-Off Tour (or Two)

We used City Tours. This company has two hop-on-hop-off tours, North of Cuenca and South of Cuenca. They did a much better job than some of the hop-on tours we’ve had. You can board the buses a Parque Calderon and buy your ticket onboard.

The Homero Panama Hats tour was part of this. I doubt we would have gone to a hat factory otherwise.

8. Enjoy Parque Calderon

This is not a large area, but it can be a great place to rest and grab some yummies.

Parque Calderon with the New Cathedral in the background
The beautiful Parque Calderon
A girl walking by stands of sweets
There are plenty of delicious choices in the stalls around Parque Calderon
9. Take a Trip to Cajas National Park (Parque Nacional Cajas)

We hired a guide I found on Trip Advisor to show us around. Be warned, if you go to the higher altitude areas it will be cold.

Two men looking at a tree
Steve and our guide in the park
A hummingbird in a tree
A hummingbird in the park

You can learn about the park here.

10. Relax in the Spas in Banos

You can have a peaceful and affordable spa day just ten minutes from Cuenca. We didn’t do this, so I can’t comment on it. I kind of wish we had. You can read about the options here.

11. Shop for a Fuzzy Friend

Stuffed llamas (like the one below) and guinea pigs are in a lot of shops. They are so soft. Why not take one home?

Side note: guinea pigs (cuy) are a common food in Ecuador.

A stuffed llama on a shelf
I want to be your friend!
12. Admire the Architecture

In 1999 the Historic Center of Cuenca was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Have a quick look around, and you will see why.

Facade of a builing in Old Town Cuenca
A beautiful facade on a building in old town
Two ornate church doors
Doors on La Merced Church (left) and the New Catherdral (right).

For a more in-depth look at the architecture of Cuenca, check out A Guide to Cuenca Architecture.

Trip Details

Dates: June 20 – July 17, 2019
Days: 27
Total cost for 2: $2,800
Cost per day for 2: $104

Have you been to Cuenca? If so, Steve and I would love to hear about your experiences and restaurant recommendations.

Read more about our year in Latin America:
Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences
Is a Land-Based Galapagos Trip Right For You?
Latin American Street Art to Fuel Your Wanderlust
Wind and Whim’s 2019 Travel Costs: Latin America

Bonus Photos
Front view of the Turi Church in Cuenca
The Turi Church
A large French style building
Can you believe this is a high school? It’s the Colegio Nacional Experimental Benigno Malo.
A dog sitting on a man’s lap at a soccer game
A four-legged fan at our first soccer game
Wooden door with Inca style carvings
A door on a business nea Parque Calderon
A woman in native clothing with a young girl
It is common to see older native women in traditional dress.
View of the Broken Bridge from the Historic Center
The Broken Bridge as seen from the Historica Center
Street art of Incan man
Street art by the Museo Pumapungo

Have you been to Cuenca? If so, Steve and I would love to hear about your experiences and restaurant recommendations.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

Featured image by Fernando Zhiminaicela on Pixabay.com

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Pin for 12 Things You’ll Love Doing in Cuenca, Ecuador

The Funky Side of Budapest

One of the things I enjoy when exploring a city is discovering unique and colorful street art. The more eccentric, the better. Quite frankly, I think Budapest is lacking in street art (at least in the form of murals), but it makes up for it with a multitude of quirky novelties.

Street art

Even though street art is lacking in Budapest, here are a few that I found entertaining.

Fancy Face at Tereza Mexican Restaurant (District VI)

A large mural of a colorfully decorated faceYou can see this colorful face outside of the Tereza Mexican Restaurant on Nagymező utca, not far from Andrássy utca.

A Woman and a Monkey (District VII)

A mural of a woman dring through a straw while sitting next to a monkey

This woman and her monkey liven up the side of a large building on Kazinczy utca.

What a Door (District VII)

A door painted with a colorful and zany face

And how about this cool door on Kazinczy utca, which is just a few doors down from the Szimpla Kert ruin bar (discussed below)?

Llamas in a Tunnel (District XIV)

A drawing of two stylized llamas

Even though it is common to see graffiti in tunnels, the graffiti we saw in a tunnel connecting two Mexikoi metro station stops was a pleasant surprise. In addition to these llamas, the entire tunnel was filled with drawings of cute animals.

Budapest has much less graffiti than many of the cities we visited. Public places seem to get a lot of respect.

Big Statues

As you would expect, Budapest has a wealth of historical statues and monuments. But they also have quite a few lighthearted ones. Many can be found in District V, which runs along the Danube River on the Pest side of the city. Here are a few of my favorite:

Columbo (District V)

At the north end of District V, not far from the Margaret Bridge, you can find a statue of the TV character Columbo. He stands in his rumpled clothes, scratching his head while holding a cigar. His dog, Dog, sits nearby.

Life-size staute of the TV character Columbo and his dog

Why is a statue of an American TV character in Budapest? The main reason is that Peter Falk, the actor who played Columbo, was of Hungarian heritage. It is also possible that he was related to a Hungarian political figure and writer named Miksa Falk. For this reason, the statue is at the end of Falk Miksa Street (Hungarians write names with the surname first).

If you want to know more about the delightful oddity, check out this site and the video it contains.

Girl With Her Dog (District V)

This girl has a lovely place along the Danube River in which to play ball with her dog. They can be found south of the Chain Bridge.

Statue of a girl reaching for a ball in a dog’s mouth

Little Princess (District V)

Just north of the Girl With Her Dog statue sits the Little Princess. The sculptor, László Marton, was inspired to create this statue by his daughter because she loved to dress up as a princess. The princess is perched on a railing along the Danube River.

Statue of a child in a princess outfit

The Fat Policeman (District V)

You can meet this guy not far from St. Stephen’s Basilica. It is said that if you rub his belly, you will have good luck. Note his ceremonial headgear, which is called a Zrinyi Helmet.

Statue of a policeman with a large belly

Man on a ladder (District VIII)

While walking to the Kerepesi Cemetery one day, we came across this statue in Teleki Lászlo tér. I have not been able to find out what it signifies but found it charming nonetheless.

Mini Statues

In addition to the statues mentioned above, the city is graced with quite a few mini statues. If you have eagle eyes, you may just spot some of them on your own. Since the statues are tiny (generally less than 1-foot square), we had to use this cheat sheet to find them.

The mini statues are the work of a sculptor named Mihály Kolodko. Some of the statues were commissioned, but others were placed around the city Banksy style by Kolodko. Kolodko’s mini statues grace several other cities as well.

According to the list above, there are twenty statues in Budapest. Of course, that number could change at any time.

Checker-Eared Rabbit (District 1)

This little spy can be found near Buda Castle. It is based on a character from a Hungarian children’s TV show.

Mini statue of a rabbit with an eyeglassKermit the Frog (District V)

You can see the always popular Kermit in Liberty Square. (Szabadság Square) not far from the U.S. Embassy.

Mini statue of a frog in front of a fenceDiver (District VII)

This statue of a diver was the first mini statue we saw in Budapest. That was before we knew of the other mini statues. It is outside of the elegant New York Palace Hotel and Café. It illustrates a legend that a  Hungarian author named Ferenc Molnár tossed the café’s key into the river to prevent it from ever closing.

While the café is still around, it is currently closed because of the pandemic.

Mini statue of a scuba diver with a keyTank (District I)

Some of the mini statues have historical meaning, like this tank. It commemorates the failed  1956 revolution against Soviet occupation. The tank is on the Buda side of the Danube across from Parliament. The gun is facing downward to signify the end of the revolution.

Mini statue of a tank with it’s gun bent downwardDead Squirrel (District V)

This unfortunate creature lies just behind the Columbo statue on Falk Miksa Street. To illustrate how small the mini statues are, we passed by the Columbo statue many times, stopped to photograph it at least twice, and never spotted the squirrel.

Mini statue of a dead squirrel with a gun
Ruin Bars

Ruin bars are unique to Budapest. They were originally underground bars set up in abandoned or decaying buildings. Since District VII (the Jewish Quarter) had been neglected since WWII, this was the logical place to find these buildings.

The bars were decorated with cheap, free, or even discarded furniture and novelties, eclecticism in the extreme.

Ruin bars still exist but have lost their alternative vibe since they got on the radar of tourists. Even so, it is worth checking out one or two of them, even if you aren’t a drinker/partier.

You can read more about Budapest’s ruin bars in this article by Nomatic Matt.

Szimpla Kert (District VII)

The first, most famous, and yes, the funkiest ruin bar is Szimpla Kert (Simple Garden in English). In addition to the nighttime activities, they host a farmers’ market every Sunday. That is when we took the opportunity to see what the fuss was all about.

Like two of the examples of street art (above), Szimpla Kert is on Kazinczy utca.

The front of Szimpla Kert
The front of Szimpla Kert on a Sunday Morning
Interior view of Szimpla Kert with plants and mannequin
One example of the oddities you will find inside
liebling (District VII)

We haven’t visited this place yet, but we definitely need to. It is a roof-top bar on Akácfa utca that is part of the Instant-Fogas Complex. This complex has seven clubs at one site.

Roof bar with large red lips and white eagle
The roof top bar liebling as seen from the street
Mazel Tov (District VII)

As of this writing, the only other ruin bar Steve and I visited was Mazel Tov, also on Akácfa utca. It is less zany, more classy than the above two bars. With an open feeling and some trees growing among the tables, it is a pleasant place for a light meal.

Interior of Mazel Tov restaurant and bar
Inside Mazel Tov; airy and relaxing

A Few More Funky Things

The Michael Jackson Memorial Tree (District V)

No, it isn’t a tree that was planted in the late pop star’s honor. The Michael Jackson Memorial Tree is a tree that stands in Elisabeth Square near the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest. It is covered with photos paying tribute to Jackson.

Jackson only visited Budapest three times. Once in 1994, to shoot a promotional video for his HIStory album, once in 1996 to check out a concert venue, and again in 1996 for the only concert he ever gave in Budapest (part of his HIStory world tour). Prior to 1989, Hungary was controlled by the Soviet Union, and acts like Jackson’s were not welcome.

A tree covered with photos of Michael Jackson
The Michael Jackson Memorial Tree in Elisabeth Square. You can see part of the Budapest Eye in the background.

Here is more detail about the tree from We Love Budapest.

Púder Bárszínház (District IX)

If you stroll down Raday Street in District IX, you may come across this golden bear. He sits in front of the Púder Bárszínház restaurant.

Raday Street is in the historic Ferencváros district and boasts many restaurants, including Costes, Budapest’s first Michelin-starred restaurant.

A large gold-tone bear statue sitting on a sidewalk
A cute but not very cuddly bear on Raday Street.
Bela Lugosi Bust (District XIV)

Since he died in 1956, you may not be familiar with Bela Lugosi. He was a Hungarian actor who became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He is most famous for his portrayal of Dracula.

If you visit the Vajdahunyad Castle in City Park, you can see a bust of Bela Lugosi. It was placed in an empty nook on the castle in the dark of night (how fitting) by the German artist who created the bust. You would be unlikely to notice it unless you were looking for it. You can read more about this bust and the artist’s escapades in other cities in this Atlas Obscura article.

A bust of the actor Bela Lugosi on a castle wall
Bela surveying the grounds at City Park

Closing

Budapest is divided into 23 districts. As you can see in this list, there is a lot to see in District V. This is no surprise since it is the downtown/tourist area.

District VII is the former Jewish Quarter and is heavy on nightlife. The three ruin bars mentioned here are in District VII.

The mini statues have been placed throughout the city and make for fun exploring if time permits. Personally, I love this city and can find entertaining delights no matter where I go.

I hope you enjoyed reading about some of the off-beat sights and activities in Budapest. Of course, Budapest is chock full of elegance as well. You can see some of that in The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos.

As always, Steve and I would love to hear about the funky sights you have seen in Budapest!

Stay safe,
Linda

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Beware the E-Scooters: A Wind and Whim Travel Story

There are many ways to get around in Budapest. In addition to an extensive metro system, there are taxis, buses, trams, trains, and bicycles. There is even a chairlift to get to the top of Janos Hill. But for Steve and me, the most enjoyable way to get around the city is by electric scooter. At least it was until I had not one, but two, scooter accidents within a month.

Freedom After Lockdown

We arrived in Budapest in March of 2020. The entire country shut down just a few days later because of COVID-19. During the three-month shutdown, we limited our time in public. When the shutdown ended, we discovered the fun of scootering around the city.

We were nervous about riding next to heavy traffic, so we limited our scooter outings to Sunday mornings and holidays when the streets were less crowded.

Fun While it Lasted (Accident #1)

For the next few months, we would get out early on Sunday. We zipped around Budapest from City Park to Margaret Island. From the Castle District to the Palace District.

Then one Sunday, we were riding in the bike lane on Andrassy Avenue. As I approached an intersection, a young man stepped off the curb and into my path. He had failed to look both ways, relying on the convention that all traffic must stop when a pedestrian enters the striped crosswalk.

Bikelane, road, and crosswalk on Andrassy Ave. in Budapest
The scene of accident #1

I swerved left, then right, then left again. He stepped forward, then backward, then forward again. I barely avoided hitting him. I hit the back of a parked car instead. I was going too fast to stop and bear all the blame.

Results of Accident #1

I was fortunate that my only physical injury was a scraped elbow. But my pride and confidence were seriously shaken.

We aren’t sure what damage I caused to the car since it already had a lot of dents and scratches. Steve took several pictures of the car and left our contact information under a wiper blade. We headed home on foot.

Black Yaris with a dent in the side
I hit the back of this car. The huge dent on the side was already there.

A few weeks later, we got a call from the owner of the car. We met with him and filled out insurance paperwork, which of course, we couldn’t read because it was in Hungarian. We also submitted forms to LimeBike.

As of this writing, we have not heard anything else about this issue.

Down, But Not Out

This accident shook me up, but I decided that it wouldn’t stop me from riding scooters. I would just have to be more careful.

Realizing that it could have been much worse, I bought a helmet and wore it every time I rode.

Even with the helmet, I was nervous. Steve would often get ahead of me because he was going at a normal speed. Then he would stop and wait for me.

Accident #2

Just one month later, it happened again.  This time I didn’t damage any property, but I did end up in the ER.

We were heading home after exploring Obudai Island. We were traveling on a narrow sidewalk right next to a road. The next thing I know, I was reaching out with my left foot and then tumbling into the road.

It was a good thing I was wearing my helmet because my head bounced off the road. Fortunately, there weren’t any cars coming in my direction at that time.

A family was driving by and saw me fall. They stopped to help. They asked if I would like to go to the hospital. I was pretty shaken up, had a big bump on the back of my head, and was concerned about a concussion, so I said yes.

It seemed like a bit of overkill, but since we don’t have a car, the good samaritans called an ambulance. And because the accident occurred on a state road, the police were summoned as well.

Passing the Test

While we waited for the ambulance, the police recorded what had happened. That is when we found out that you need a valid driver’s license to ride an electric scooter. Fortunately, I had my Florida license with me, and that was satisfactory.

Then they did a  breathalyzer test. I am happy to say I passed with flying colors since my last drink was peach juice.

Now it was time to head to the hospital.

Not Quick, But Cheap

I was taken to the Hungarian Army Medical Center (Magyar Honvédség Egészségügyi Központ). As in the U.S., we had a long wait in the ER, but it was a much better experience than Steve had after his skiing accident in Bulgaria. You can read about that in Hospitalized in Bulgaria.

This hospital was clean, almost everyone was wearing masks, and most of the staff spoke English. After a cat scan, I was given a clean bill of health and sent home. Besides the bump on my head, I had an abrasion on my other elbow and a huge bruise behind one knee.

The whole thing, including the ambulance ride, only cost US$230. The most painful part was the realization that I had reached the point in life in which I can’t safely do everything I want to.

Just like Steve swore off skiing after his accident, I swore off electric scooters that day.

But There’s More

A few weeks after my second accident, I received a letter from the Budapest police. It was in Hungarian, but I got the gist of it by using Google Translate. It said that because I had a motor vehicle accident on a state road, I was subject to a US$500 fine. I wasn’t sure if the letter was a warning or if I would be fined. After a few emails, I was assured that this was only a warning. I was also told that future infractions would not be dealt with so leniently.

As you can see, while I was not a successful scooter rider, things could have been much worse.

How to Use LimeBike Scooters

Carefully. Very carefully, lol.

Seriously though, it is easy to rent scooters using the LimeBike app. After setting up your account, all you have to do is pull up the map showing where available scooters are located. You located a nearby scooter, press a few buttons, and you’re good to go.

Once you arrive at your destination, park it out of the way, making sure it is not in a no-locking zone. The app makes this easy.

If you are stopping for a time, be sure to pause or lock the scooter. You can always get another one when you are ready to ride again. They are everywhere in the touristy areas.

If you ride scooters, please be careful and consider wearing a helmet.

We have only used a few bike share apps, but they were a pain to use. The LimeBike app was the easiest we have used. Be warned, though; it is not the most economical way to get around.

What Does it Cost to Use a LimeBike Scooter?

I am not even going to attempt to analyze the price structure. I can tell you this: the average amount we spent per outing (which could be more than one ride) was US$10 per person.

If you want to get around quickly and inexpensively, you are better off with the metro and tram system or the buses. If you want to have a little fun and don’t mind spending more, a scooter might be just the thing.

A Final Word of Warning

Even if you don’t ride scooters, you are still at risk from them. Throughout Budapest, it is common to see electric scooters, bikes, and even motorcycles being ridden on sidewalks. A good habit to develop as a pedestrian is to walk as if you were driving a car. If you want to “change lanes”, glance behind you first. We have been amazed at how close to pedestrians riders will come without giving any warning.

Further Reading

If you want to learn more about e-scooters, here are two articles that may be of interest to you:

The results of a survey on E-scooters in Europe: legal status, usage and safety, a published in Septermber 2020 by the Forum of European Road Safety Research Institutes (FERSI).

A post about electric scooter accidents in the U.S. by a personal injury firm called Valiente Mott.

Safe and Happy Traveling,
Linda

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Sintra, Portugal – Stunning and Sublime

One of the best things about traveling full-time is discovering awesome new places. Sintra, Portugal, was such a place. This enchanting town, less than one hour from Lisbon, is brimming with historic palaces and castles.

Steve and I spent seven weeks in Portugal visiting six cities in the fall of 2018. Our tour of the country included stops in Porto, Lisbon, and the Algarve. But Sintra was the one that has remained in our hearts.

Read on to learn about Sintra and five of its most visited attractions.

A Little About Sintra

Sintra is situated in the Sintra Mountains 15.5 miles (25 km) west of Lisbon. It is famous for its 19th-century architecture known as Romanticism, and the entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In this area, you can explore several palaces and castles and their beautiful grounds. You can also visit the Sintra-Cascais Nature Park.

Sintra is often recommended as a day trip from Lisbon. However, if you love exploring as we do, you will need more than a day to do it justice.

It can be reached by car, but the roads are narrow and hilly, and parking is limited. It is better to take the 40-minute train ride from Lisbon. We got around the town by bus and walking with no problem at all.

Colorful buildings with tree-covered mountains in the background
Part of Sintra as seen from the National Palace of Sintra.
National Palace of Sintra (Palácio Nacional de Sintra)

Exterior of large white palace

The National Palace of Sintra was a popular summer resort and hunting retreat for Portuguese royalty for many centuries. When Portugal became a republic in 1910, the palace became a national monument. It is now a historical museum and the only medieval royal palace still in existence in Portugal.

The oldest part of the palace is the royal chapel. It is believed to have been built in the early 14th century. Much of the remainder of the palace dates from the 15th and 16th centuries. It underwent restoration in 1940.

The palace is located in town and is sometimes referred to as the Town Palace (Palacio da Vila). It is easy to spot because of the two large cone-shaped chimneys rising almost 100 feet (30 meters) from the roof. They provided ventilation for the palace’s two kitchens.

Close up of hand-painted doves

This is a part of the painted wall in the chapel. The doves represent the Holy Ghost descending to Earth.

Room with partially tiled walls and swans painted on the ceiling

The Swan Hall features an intricate ceiling featuring, you guessed it, swans.

A close up of azulejo tiles featuring a faun and flowers

The walls of the Coat of Arms Room are covered with azulejo tiles like these.

It is worth a few hours of your time. I recommend a tour to learn about the symbolism found in the various rooms.

Park and Palace of Monserrate (Palacio de Monserrate)

Side view of the Palace of Monserrate

The Park and Palace of Monserrate is located in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains about 2 miles (3.5 km) from the center of Sintra. While not particularly large, the palace is a lovely example of Romanticism. It combines Moorish and neo-gothic design elements. The gardens feature 1,000 species of plants in several themed areas, including a rose garden, a Japanese garden, and a Mexican garden. And how can you not love a place that has an area called fern valley?

Legend has it that circa 1093 a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary was erected on the site. In 1540 the hermitage Our Lady of Monserrate was built on the site of the palace. From that time until 1863, the estate saw several owners and was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1755.

In 1863 Sir Francis Cook purchased the estate of Monserrate. He commissioned the construction of the current palace, which became a summer residence for his family. He also renovated the gardens.

We visited in November, so the gardens weren’t at their best, but it was still fun to explore.

Hallway with marble columns and filigree details

This photo of a hallway in the palace shows the great attention to detail.

Close up of a fountain near the palace

You can see this fountain as you exit the palace.

Hedgie overlooking the palace lawn

Our travel buddy Hedgie couldn’t wait to run on the lawn.

Pena Palace (Palacio Nacional da Pena)

Exterior of Pena Palace from the road below

The most colorful of the Sintra attractions is the Pena Palace. Much of the exterior is painted red and bright yellow. The oldest section is the Manueline cloisters, which date back to the 1500s. Most of the current building was constructed between 1842 and 1854 under the behest of King Ferdinand.

The palace is brimming with an eclectic mix of architectural elements, including Neo-Gothic, Neo-Islamic, and Neo-Renaissance. The interior of the palace was restored to reflect the decor as it was in 1910 when the Portuguese nobility fled to Brazil to escape the revolution.

Gargoyle-like creature on the outside of a building

This handsome guy symbolizes the Creation. Be sure to say hi when you see him.

Terrace and pillars overlooking a valley

The Queen’s Terrace is a popular photo spot.

Don’t make the same mistake we did. Be sure to visit the Parque de Pena as well. It covers almost 500 acres (200 hectares) and has over 30 man-made elements. Here is some information about the park.

A word of warning – the palace sits on the second-highest point in the Sintra Mountains. There is a road that leads from the train station to the palace, but it is a 50-minute uphill hike. Be sure to take tourist bus 434 unless you are looking for a workout.

Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros)

View of the Castle of the Moors from a distance

We had so much fun exploring these medieval castle ruins that sit high in the Sintra Mountains. The castle was built in the 8th and 9th centuries by the Moors and was used to defend the area through the 12th century.

In 1147 Christian Crusaders stormed the castle. With the Moors driven out, it was left to become a ruin. It was partially restored by King Ferdinand II in the mid-1800s as he liked to view it from the nearby Pena Palace.

Unlike the first two places discussed here, the castle does not have rooms to see. It is a ruin where you can walk along castle walls, climb towers, and take in the views of Sintra, including the National Palace and Pena Palace.

Man walking on a castle wall

You can take tourist bus 434 to get to the castle, or you can walk there from Pena Palace in about 12 minutes.

Quinta da Regaleira

Large neo-Gothic mansion

You can’t tell by looking at it, but the Quinta da Regaleira is the newest of the five attractions in this list. The neo-gothic palace and chapel were built by a Brazilian-Portuguese businessman named Antonio Augusto de Carvalho Monteiro in 1904. Monteiro died in the palace in 1920, but it remained in his family until 1987. It was then purchased by a Japanese company to be used for private functions. It became a national monument in 1997 and was open to the public the following year.

The villa is definitely worth touring, but the real attraction is the extensive and totally over the top park. It reflects Monteiro’s interest in mystical ideologies, including the Knights Templar, the Masons, and alchemy. The park is almost 10 acres (4 hectares), and in addition to the expected fountains and statues, it includes lakes, grottoes, tunnels, and caves.

Rocky entrance to a cave

Walkway, pond, and stepping stones in a park-like setting.

Note the stepping stones you can access from a cave.

There are also two initiation wells on the property. The wells were not meant for water collection. They symbolize the initiation ceremony of the Knights Templar.

Looking down into a large initiation well

The larger one is perhaps the most famous part of the park. You can walk down the spiral stairs 88 feet below ground and see the Templar Cross inscribed in the floor.

Man looking through a moss-covered opening

    Steve on his way to the bottom of the Initiation Well

Steve and I loved visiting all the places above, but when we think of our time in Sintra, our fondest memories are of the time we spent exploring the grounds of Quinta da Regaleira.

The Cats of Sintra

OK, the cats of Sintra isn’t really a thing. But we love to meet cats and dogs on our travels and take their photos if they consent. Here are three cats we “met” while taking in the gems of the town.

Grey cat sitting on a sandy walkway
Palace of Monserrate cat
Cat lying infront a a woman’s boots
Castle of the Moors cat
Tan cat crouched on sandy walkway
Quinta de Regaleira cat
But That’s Not All!

There are many more things to do in and near Sintra. In fact, writing the article made me realize that there is a lot we didn’t see there. We need to go back.

Here are some other things to enjoy in the area:

Cabo da Roca – cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at the westernmost point of continental Europe.

Convent of the Capuchos (Convento dos Capuchos) – the ruins of a16th century Franciscan monastery. The convent’s simplicity contrasts with the luxury of many of Sintra’s attractions.

National Palace of Queluz (Palácio Nacional de Queluz) – another incredible historic palace with gardens located between Lisbon and Sintra.

Air Museum (Museu do Ar) – learn about the history of aviation in Portugal.

Cascais – we did spend a few hours in this coastal resort town about 10 miles (16.8 km) south of Sintra. It’s definitely worth another visit.

Harbor in Cascais, Portugal
The harbor in Cascais
Trip Details

Dates: November 13-23, 2018
Number of days: 10
Total cost: $1,300
Cost per day: $130

Here is what we spent in Europe in eight months.

We’d love to hear about your experiences in and around Sintra. As always, I have done my best to be factual. If you find an error in my facts, please let me know.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

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The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos

In January 2020, Steve broke his pelvis while skiing in Bulgaria. What was meant to be a three-week winter-wonderland ski trip turned into twelve weeks of pain and disappointment.

By the time he was healed enough to travel, COVID-19 was becoming a serious concern throughout the world. Instead of returning to the U.S., we decided to go to the place we had planned to be: Budapest, Hungary.

The Hungarian government had declared a state of emergency the day before we arrived. Most of the businesses started closing down just a few days later.

We isolated from the middle of March through the middle of June. During this time, we were able to walk around and enjoy the architecture. That was when I fell in love with the beauty of Budapest.

I am excited to share some of my favorite exterior views of this city with you.

Budapest’s Districts

Budapest is divided into 23 districts. I have organized the photos by district. As a tourist, you are most likely to stay in and explore the following districts:

District 1 – The Castle District  – this is where you will find the Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, and Matthias Church. Traffic is limited to people who live or work there, guests of hotels in the area, taxis, and city buses, making it a great place to stroll.

District V -Belváros, which means Downtown in Hungarian. This district along the Pest side of the Danube River includes the incredible Hungarian Parliament building and St. Stephen’s Basilica.

District VI -Terézvaros – home to the elegant Andrássy Avenue, the Hungarian State Opera House, and upscale stores.

Of course, the other 20 districts also have a lot to offer. I hope you enjoy exploring the beauty of Budapest here and in person.

Here is an article that explains Budapest’s districts well.

Arresting Architecture

It seems odd to have the very first photo be of a modern building, but since I decided to list the photos by district, this is the first. We came across this building while exploring the Buda side of the city.

Modern building with rounded side and a lot of glass
District II, Vérhalom utca 19

The next building is also on the Buda side. Construction cranes are a common sight throughout Budapest.

Large brick and cement building with a round tower
District II, Széll Kálmán tér

This elegant building is the Four Seasons Gresham Palace Hotel. This 100-year-old Art Nouveau building originally contained apartments and offices for the Gresham Life Assurance Company of Great Britain.

The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace in Budapest
District V, Széchenyi István tér 5-6

The Parisi Udvar is a Bell Epoque beauty that was a shopping passage when it opened in 1817. After suffering from neglect, it has been transformed into a 5-star hotel with opulent dining areas.

Ornate angled Art Nouveau building
District V, Petőfi Sándor utca 2-4

I just love the clean look of this large white building next to the Parliament building, which you can see below.

Large white seven-story building
District V, Kossuth Lajos tér

This beauty overlooks Liberty Square.

Large white building with decorative relief as seen at an angle
District V, Szabadság tér

And this building is part of the Nyugati Railway Station. There is a similar building which is also part of the railway station and houses a McDonalds.

Brick building with curved grey roof
District VI, Podmaniczky utca 22

One of the many impressive houses on Andrássy Avenue. This elegant street runs from Elisabeth Square to City Park. The Neo-renaissance mansions (many of which are now embassies) and high-end stores make for a lovely stroll.

A three-story pure white building with wrought iron decorations
District VI, Andrássy utca 124-132

The neo-gothic Stern House.

Ornate brown and yellow 4-story building
District VIII, Rákóczi utca 7

This frilly confection is the Vígszínház, the Comedy Theatre of Budapest.

Fancy yellow theatre building with black wrought iron details
District XIII, Szent István korut 14
Fabulous Facades

Here are two buildings that I never tire of seeing. They are at the foot of the Elisabeth Bridge on the Pest side.

Two attached 5-story tan buildings
District V, Váci utca at the foot of the Elisabeth Bridge on the Pest side

The Vigadó Concert Hall sits near the bank of the Danube River on the Pest side.

Large tan building with tall arched windows
Distrcit V, Belgrád rakpart

Like the two joined buildings above, these are at the foot of the Elisabeth Bridge on the Pest side of the city.

Two attached 5-story buildings
District V, Váci utca at the foot of the Elisabeth Bridge on the Pest side

You can’t go wrong with a pretty pink house.

Pink building with off white decoration
District VI, Lendvay utca 1

This bright, recently restored building is on a side street. Well worth the detour.

Bright yellow building with ornate white decorations
District VI, Aradi utca 30

The Anantara New York Palace Budapest Hotel. It was built in 1894 as an office for the New York Life Insurance Company. In 2006 it became a luxury hotel. The ground floor houses the New York Cafe, as elegant today as it was over a century ago.

Front of the Anantara New York Palace Budapest Hotel
District VII, erzsébet körút 8

This lovely gem flanks the pond in City Park. It appears to have restaurants and shops, but they have been closed during the pandemic.

Large white building next to a pond
District XIV, Vázsonyi Vilmos sétány
Incredible Icons

This is just part of the fairy-tale-like Fisherman’s Bastion. Interestingly, it was never intended to be used for defense. It was built between 1895 and 1902 as part of a campaign to construct several buildings in celebration of the 1,000th birthday of the Hungarian State. The bastion is on the Buda side of the Danube River.

Castle-like section of Fisherman’s Bastion
District I, Szentháromság tér 5

The Church of the Assumption of the Buda Castle (or the Matthias Church) is adjacent to Fisherman’s Bastion. The original church was built in 1,015. The current building was built in the 14th century and extensively restored in the 19th century.  Be sure to take a guided tour of the tower.

A church viewed from an arched stairway
District I, Szentháromság tér 2

Buda Castle sits on Castle Hill overlooking the Danube River on the Buda side of the city. As you can imagine, the castle has a long and complex history. It was destroyed in WWII and rebuilt during the 1950s and 60s. Unfortunately, the work was not done well. The castle is now undergoing restoration to bring it back to its pre-WWII splendor.

Buda castle at night as seen from Pest
District I, Sikló utca

This sprawling neo-Gothic beauty is the Hungarian Parliament Building. It sits on the bank of the Danube River on the Pest side of the city.

The Hungarian Parliament Building as seen from Buda
District V, Kossuth Lajos tér 1-3

St.Stephen’s Basilica is a Roman Catholic basilica named in honor of the first king of Hungary.

St. Stephen’s Basilica at dusk
District V, Szent István tér 1

Even though it is covered up while being renovated, I had to include the Hungarian State Opera House. We were able to have an abbreviated tour of the inside in the summer. It was magnificent.

The Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest
District VI, Andrássy utca 22

The Dohány Street Synagogue is the largest synagogue in Europe and the third-largest in the world. The Moorish Revival building is more than 160 years old.

Front entrance of a synagogue
District VII, Dohány utca 2

The Keleti Railway Station (translates to East Railway Station) is a hub for local and long-distance trains and buses.

The majestic Keleti Palyaudvar
District VIII, Kerepesi utca 2-4

The Great Market Hall, also called the Central Market Hall, is a great place to admire architecture while shopping for food and souvenirs. Interestingly, there is a supermarket on the lower level.

Central market hall on a fall day
District IX, Vámház krt. 1-3

This massive building is the Széchenyi Thermal Bath. Part of the building is painted a bright yellow, as you can see at the photo’s sides.

View of the Széchenyi Baths in Budapest’s City Park
District XIV, City Park

This is one part of the Vajdahunyad Castle. The entire castle features several architectural styles that celebrate the history of Hungary. Like Fisherman’s Bastion, this castle was built for the Millennial Exhibition in 1896.

The castle was initially built of wood and cardboard because it was not intended to be permanent. It proved to be so popular that it was rebuilt as a permanent structure that now houses the Hungarian Agricultural Museum.

Learn more about the history of Vajdahunyad Castle.

A castle-like building reflected in a pond
District XIV, Vajdahunyad stny. City Park
Delightful Details

Part of the tiled roof of the Matthias Church. Many buildings in the city have patterned roofs.

Close up of the decorative roof tiles on the Matthias Church in Budapest
District I, Szentháromság tér 2

This 120-year-old four-story building is called the Severa House. It was originally the home of an Italian salami maker named Károly Szevera.

Four mosaics that represent the four seasons are on the top floor.

Top of ornate building with four mosaic panels representing the four seasons
District V, Károly körút 14.

These are just three of the many busts on the Parisi Udvar building.

Bust of a woman and two men on the Parisi Udvar building
District V, Petőfi Sándor u. 2-4

This cute relief is one of eight different ones on a building on Vaci street.

Plaque with one child blowing a horn at another child
District V, Váci utca 66

It is not unusual to see statues in niches on the exteriors of buildings. This building features statues of several Hungarian leaders.

Exterior of building with three statues
District V, Cukor utca 7

This is detail on a porcelain Herend statue that stands in Jozsef Nador Square. Every time I see it, I marvel at how it has remained undamaged.

One of the things that impressed me the most about Budapest is the respect the citizens have for their city. The streets are the cleanest we’ve seen in any city so far, and public transportation is free of graffiti and trash.

Two colorful bird sitting on branches on a Herend porcelain statue
District V, Jozsef Nador Square

Here is another relief. This one is just too cute.

Plaque of a small boy reading to two large dogs
District VI, Dalszínház utca 9

These mosaics are on the top story of a three-story building.

Front of white building with Egyptian style decorations
District VI, Bajza utca 42-44

These beautiful corbels are on the elegant Andrássy Avenue.

Ornate brackets on a building on Andrássy utca in Budapest
District VI, Andrássy utca 4-6

These are two of the light-holding fauns that decorate the Anantara New York Palace Budapest Hotel.

Two winged fugures holding lights
District VII, Dohány utca 53

More reliefs. These are on the side of a building that houses a large drug and toiletries store.

Reliefs on a building
District IX, Tompa utca 5-9
Faded Beauty

As we’ve been exploring Budapest, we have been amazed at the large number of cranes and buildings being refurbished. We have remarked that we need to revisit the city in about five years to see all the improvements after they are finished.

While not as beautiful as the buildings above, the four buildings below cannot hide their elegance. Let’s hope they get the facelifts they deserve.

Even in disrepair, this building remains impressive.

Five-story building with fancy roof
District V, Deák Ferenc tér

This is the Drescher Palace. It stands across from the Hungarian State Opera House on Andrássy Avenue. Its history includes a three-story cafe, apartments, and serving as a ballet institute. It was supposed to become a W Hotel, but it appears that those plans fell by the wayside.

Large brown palace-like building in disrepair
District VI, Andrássy utca

I love seeing the difference between the restored section of this building and the part that is still waiting for love.

Large corner building with one half restored
District VI, Andrássy utca

This building is at the corner of the street we are currently staying on. If you look closely, you can see straps holding the statues on.

Old biuilding with statues
District IX, Mester utca and Páva utca
Beautiful Bridges

There are main seven bridges that connect the two sides of Budapest (in order from north to south):

Árpád Bridge
Margaret Bridge
Széchenyi Chain Bridge
Elisabeth Bridge
Liberty Bridge
Petőfi Bridge

Below you will see photos of the four most picturesque of these bridges.

The Margaret Bridge not only connects Buda and Pest but also connects both sides of the city to Margaret Island. It is the second oldest bridge in Budapest.

You can spend hours exploring Margaret Island. I highly recommend it.

A yellow bridge spanning the Danube River
The Margaret Bridge

Here is one of the pillars on the Margaret Bridge.

Marble pillar with metal ornaments and lights
District XIII, Margaret Bridge (Margit híd)

The oldest and most famous bridge in Budapest is the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. It is commonly known as the Chain Bridge.

The Chain Bridge as seen from the Buda side of Budapest
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge

Two lions guard the Chain Bridge at each end. A cool trivia fact is that the lions don’t have tongues.

The bridge was closed to traffic on a Saturday night in the summer.

The Chain Bridge at night
The Chain Bridge

This modern bridge is the Elisabeth Bridge (named after a beloved Hungarian queen).

The Elisabeth Bridge as seen from the Buda side of Budapest
The Elisabeth Bridge

The Liberty Bridge as viewed from the Pest side:

The Liberty Bridge as seen from the Buda side of Budapest
The Liberty Bridge

And detail on the Liberty Bridge:

Detail of the Liberty Bridge
Liberty Bridge Detail

The five bridges that existed in Budapest before WWII, including the four above, were all destroyed by retreating German troops in 1945. All were rebuilt. The Elisabeth Bridge was the only one not rebuilt to resemble the original.

You can see historic and current photos of the bridges and the city after the WWII bombings here.

Closing

These are just a few of the thousands of remarkable sights you can see as you explore Budapest. Even in the less elegant neighborhoods, there are so many lovely surprises.

12 Full-Time Travel Questions Answered

Do you dream of leaving it all behind to traveling full-time? You’re not alone.

You may be wondering how affordable it is, or maybe you’re concerned about practical issues like medical insurance, prescriptions, and cell phone usage.

Here I answer 12 questions about what to expect if you make this leap.

A Bit of Background

In 2016 Steve and I announced that we were planning to retire and travel full-time beginning in 2018. You can read about how we came to this decision in our story “How It All Began”.

Other full-time travelers have written about getting both positive and negative comments when they sprang their news, but surprisingly we only got positive responses. I’m sure some of the people we told thought we were crazy, but they were kind enough to not say so. 

During our two years of planning, we got many questions. Here are the questions we were asked, along with some that weren’t asked:

Are you going to sell your house or rent it?

We opted to sell our house. We had lived in it for 30 years. It was a great house for raising children, but it had served its purpose. 

We had a decent-size yard with extensive gardens that was a fabulous place for the girls to play and saved my sanity as a stay-at-home mom. But the amount of work was growing tiresome. 

We had a pool that took many more hours of maintenance than we spent swimming in it. 

Renting may be a good option if you are likely to return to the home or neighborhood. We didn’t want the hassles of renting. We would have to pay someone to maintain the yard and pool and pay a management company. The last thing we wanted in our new life was calls about repair costs or delinquent tenants.

A man and woman at Machu Picchu
Enjoying the splendor of Machu Picchu sure beats yardwork.
Will you return to Jacksonville, Florida, when you are done traveling?

When we left Jacksonville in 2018, our plans were open-ended. We had no idea when or where we would settle. Even now, almost three years later, we still don’t.

One thing we know is that it won’t be in Jacksonville. We have no desire to return to the heat and humidity. One of our daughters lives there; the other is in Orlando. Other than that, we don’t have strong ties to Jacksonville. Steve and I have often discussed that we might not even settle in the U.S. 

What will you do with your cars?

Since we planned to spend only one month in the U.S. each year, we sold our cars. The abundance of public transportation in Europe and Latin America has spoiled us. When we return to the U.S., we rent a car. This can be quite pricey.

In 2018 we rented a car for 4 1/2 weeks for $885.

In 2019 a 5-week rental cost us over $2,000.

In many of the cities we’ve visited, we have used Uber. We find it efficient and affordable. Before our first trip back to the U.S., we considered using it instead of renting a car.

I found a website that estimated Uber costs (sorry, I don’t remember which one). Because Jacksonville is spread out and has heavy traffic, the prices were shocking. Also, having used Uber in Jacksonville a few times, I knew it wasn’t cheap. We felt that in this case, renting a car was the better choice.

Keep in mind that if you don’t own a car, you won’t have auto insurance. Our main credit card covers theft and damage to a rental auto. We always make sure we get liability coverage in case we cause an accident that results in someone’s injury or death or damages someone else’s property. Trust me, this doesn’t come cheap.

How do your grown children feel about this?

Our two daughters, Stephanie and Laura, have been very supportive. If the idea of us being out of the country for most of the year bothers them, they are selfless enough to keep it to themselves.

Our original plan was to return to the U.S. every December. During these visits, we can spend time with Stephanie and Laura, visit friends, and see our doctors.

This plan worked fine for the first two years. Then 2020 arrived. As of this writing, it looks like we will spend December 2020 in Budapest, Hungary, where we have been waiting out the pandemic since March.

How will you get your mail?

We are using a virtual mailbox service called Traveling Mailbox. The service notifies you via email when you receive mail. You then log in to see your mail and tell them how you want it handled.

Traveling Mailbox will forward mail anywhere in the world and deposit checks for you. Both of these have small fees attached. We recommend Traveling Mailbox but there are several companies that provide similar services.

You can learn more about our favorite services and apps here.

What will you do about cell phones?

Our cell phones are still connected to our AT&T account in the U.S. When we arrive in a new country, we get a local SIM card that gives us calls and internet data. We use internet data when we are out and about. In our lodgings we have wifi.

SIM cards are generally inexpensive. In Peru, we paid $11 per person for a 30-day plan.

AT&T also offers a plan that allows us to use our AT&T SIM for $10 for 24 hours. We do this when we have to make calls to the U.S. for financial or medical reasons. For talking with friends and relatives, we rely on WhatsApp.

How will you handle finances?

The good news is when you sell almost everything, you have very few bills. And everything can be paid online.

Even so, things can slip through the cracks. We recently found out that we owed our dentist’s office almost $1,000. The office had submitted the charges to our insurance company, and this is what wasn’t covered. We found out about this because our Chase bank account informed us that our credit had been impacted.

It turned out that the dentist’s office did not have our complete address on file (for the virtual mailbox). They also didn’t have our email addresses, and they only had our U.S. phone numbers, which we aren’t currently using. If it wasn’t for the Chase notification, this could have sat for another year.

What about medical insurance?

We chose not to get medical travel insurance. We believe the cost of medical care outside of the U.S. is generally affordable, so we pay for it out-of-pocket. A case in point: Steve’s ski accident in Bulgaria cost $2,000. This included nine days in the hospital with all tests and medicines and two ambulance rides. You can read about this less-than-ideal experience in Hospitalized in Bulgaria.

I am happy to say that the other few times we have dealt with doctors, the experience was professional, efficient, and inexpensive.

Our current U.S. insurance is through the Affordable Care Act, and surprisingly it has covered many of the costs we incur while traveling.

This is a perfect solution for us, but for someone who doesn’t have ample savings to fall back on, I would definitely recommend travel medical insurance.

Here is an article from The Hartford that summarizes the different types of travel insurance.

And here is some information about some of the top travel health companies. 

A note about other travel insurance

We have trip cancelation and baggage delay coverage through our Chase credit card but wouldn’t buy it if Chase did not provide it.

We always decline trip insurance when booking flights. Of all the flights we have taken, we only missed one when Steve was laid up from his ski accident. The way I look at it, the money we saved by not taking the insurance over the years more than covered the money we lost by not taking that one flight.

One coverage we won’t leave home without is our emergency evacuation policy through Medjet. This covers the cost of transporting us home in case of a medical emergency or transporting our mortal remains. You can add coverage for assistance during a crisis like a natural disaster or an act of terrorism. Medjet offers short-term and annual policies.

One thing to note: early in the pandemic, Medjet informed policyholders that they would not be able to transport them during the pandemic because of the highly contagious nature of Covid-19 that led to travel restrictions.

What about prescriptions?

Steve and I both take several prescriptions daily. Fortunately, most of them are inexpensive. On our annual returns to the U.S., our doctors write us prescriptions for one year’s worth of each of these. After we fill what we can through our insurance, we would use GoodRx coupons to fill the rest. 

Unfortunately, we have a few medications that are too expensive to buy out-of-pocket. When we set out in 2018, we only had enough of these for three months. We found that it is easy to get medications in other countries. Even though we are paying out of pocket, they are nowhere near as expensive as in the U.S. Depending on the medication and which country you are in, you may not even need a prescription.

Initially, we were concerned about carrying so much medicine, but we haven’t had any problems. We make sure that they are all kept in their original bottles. We also asked our doctors to write a letter that lists our medications, what each one is for, and how long we plan to travel.

Once we got into a travel routine, we started ordering our medications quarterly using our U.S.-based insurance. Our daughter holds them for us.

Of course, 2020 had to mess this up too. Since we are not returning to the U.S. in December, we will not be replenishing our supplies. Therefore we must see a doctor in Budapest and fill our prescriptions here. Not ideal, but still affordable.

Which credit cards will you use?

Several people we know love the Southwest credit card. I think it is great for people who travel on Southwest frequently. Since we may end up anywhere in the world, traveling by any number of airlines or by train or bus, that card doesn’t make sense for us.

Our primary card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. It is a VISA card that we’ve been able to use everywhere we have been so far.

We collect points for every purchase, which we can use at a 25% premium for travel. I have recently discovered that we can also use them to pay ourselves back for grocery and restaurant purchases with the same 25% premium.

We carry one Mastercard and debit cards from two different accounts as back up. Our pickpocketing experience in Barcelona taught us never to carry them together.

How can you afford to do this?

This is the one question everyone we knew was too polite to ask.

The simple answer is that we saved throughout our entire working lives. We didn’t save so we could retire early or travel full-time. We saved because we knew one day we would retire and need more than our Social Security to live on.

Are we rich? Rich is a relative term. I don’t consider us to be rich, but we have enough money that we don’t have to worry about unexpected bills like Steve’s Bulgarian hospital stay, and we can afford to splurge now and then as we did for our two-week-long Transatlantic cruise.

But we are also sensible and frugal. We love staying in four-star hotels at a two-star price, as we did in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, but we aren’t willing to pay a five-star price for a five-star hotel room.

Lovely hotel room in beige and aqua
Our room at the Iguazu Jungle Lodge in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. All this and a large balcony for $86 per night.

We have a budget that we use as a guide. Sometimes we are under, like during the pandemic, and sometimes over, like we were in the Galapagos and Peru.

Keep in mind there are oodles of people who travel full-time on a lot less per month than we do. Many travelers work on the road.

How much does it cost to travel full-time?

This can vary greatly. Some travelers spend very little by staying with friends, couch-surfing, volunteering in exchange for accommodations, or staying at hostels.

Food costs can be kept low by self-catering or eating street food.

We have chosen to travel at a three-star level. Each year I document our costs. You can read about the past two years here:

Wind and Whim’s 2018 Travel Costs – Europe

Wind and Whim’s 2019 Travel Costs – Latin America

That’s All, Folks!

I hope this answered some of the questions you have about full-time travel. If there is anything else you are curious about, please leave your question in the comments section.

Also, I would love to hear your answers to these questions.

Stay safe,
Linda

Featured Photo by Julius Silver on Pixabay.com

Therme Bucuresti: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

Are you thinking of visiting Bucharest when the pandemic is over? Great! You’ll love it. Along with seeing the Palace of Parliament, Herăstrău Lake and Park, and the Cărturești Carusel bookstore, there is one other place that should be on your list: Therme Bucuresti.

What is Therme Bucuresti?

It is an astonishing wellness center and so much more. It is a place where you can feel like a carefree kid one minute and a pampered adult the next.

Therme Bucuresti is the largest relaxation and entertainment center in Europe. It opened in 2016 and welcomed 1.2 million visitors that year.

It is the first wellness facility of its size to be granted a LEED Platinum Certification for green building.

The thermal water that supplies all of the pools is extracted from 3,000 m below ground. The pool temperatures are maintained at 33 – 36 degrees Celsius (91 – 97 degrees Fahrenheit). We found the water temperature to be perfect.

It is also the largest botanical garden in Romania with over 800,000 plants!

Indoor pool at Therme Bucuresti surrounded by palm trees
The tropics in Bucharest

What Will You Find at Therme Bucuresti?

The best way to understand how much Therme Bucuresti has to offer is to visit its website. Be warned, it can be a bit overwhelming.

Therme Bucuresti is divided into three areas. As a guest, you decide which areas you want to access. Each area has dining options and all offer activities which can be viewed on the website. The three areas are:

Galaxy – this is the only area that allows children of all ages. Here you will find waterslides, a wave pool, and a game center. There is also a pool bar, an indoor/outdoor pool, a sandy beach, and a salt library to keep parents entertained. I am not ashamed to say I spend quite a bit of time on the waterslides.

Indoor pool and large waterslides
Fun, fun, fun – even for big kids like me!

The Palm & The Sands of Therme – This is where you will find another indoor/outdoor pool. The indoor pool has a retracting roof. The outdoor pool has a crazy river. Both have swim-up bars.

You must be at least 17 years old to enter this area, although parents can bring children up to three years old into this area.

The Palm also three mineral pools, a jacuzzi, hydromassage tables. There is a sandy beach with 500 palm trees and 1,500 loungers outside.

Large indoor mineral pools
Mineral pools in The Palms area

Elysiumthis is the wellness area. It features six themed saunas and a cooling calla shower. You can also get massages here. Like the Palms, this area is for people 17 and older.

The Elysium also has an indoor selenium and zinc pool with another swim-up bar.


A large shower in the shape of calla lillies
For a cold water blast after your sauna, visit the calla shower in the Elysium area

Our Experiences

We visited Therme Bucuresti twice in September 2018. Our first visit was for an entire day. We enjoyed it so much we decided to go back for a nighttime visit a week later.

One of the best things about Therme Bucuresti is what a great deal it is, at least for visitors from countries like the United States. Our first visit cost $172 (USD) for the two of us. While not a small amount of money, it is considerably less than what a similar experience would cost in the U.S. Here is a list of what we got for that price:

Access to all three areas
Robe and towel rental
Lunch
Two drinks at the swim-up bar
Two 45 minute massages
One haircut

Not bad for $86 (USD) per person.

A word of warning – if you get a massage, you will be given a skimpy (and I do mean skimpy) paper G-string to wear. Click here if you would like to see a similar version to the ones Steve and I were given.

Our evening visit cost $130 (USD). This included:

Access to all areas
Robe and towel rental
Four drinks
One massage

Even though there were many people there during both our visits, the complex is large enough that it never felt crowded.

A toy hedgehog at a swim-up bar
Hedgie hanging at the swim-up bar

Practical Stuff

Therme Bucuresti is 10 miles north of Bucharest at Calea Bucuresti 1K, Bucuresti, Romania.

There are several ways to get there: by car, taxi, Uber, or by the Therme Bucuresti shuttle bus that leaves from Piata Romana. Here is a link to directions and shuttle bus information.

You can rent a robe and towel when you arrive. As of this writing, the rental is reasonably priced at around  $12.00 (USD).

When you check in you will be given a wrist band. You will use it to open and lock your locker and record your purchases throughout your visit.

A note about shoes: you should bring flip flop style shoes to wear when walking between areas. I had some, but Steve’s were more like a boat shoe. They had a thick white sole. The staff took issue with them even though they had been sold as beach shoes and had never been worn outside. You can also buy slippers at Therme, but we did not do this.

For more information, you can read the Therme Bucuresti FAQ here.

Collage of lounge chairs, lockers, hair dryers, and decor in Therme Bucuresti
A few images of the facilities at Therme Bucuresti

Closing

If you’ve been to Therme Bucuresti, I would love to know what you thought of it.

If you haven’t, I encourage you to visit it if you are anywhere near Bucharest.

Writing this brought back such good memories that I wish I could go there right now. Unfortunately, the pandemic has us grounded in Budapest, Hungary. Maybe once it is safe to travel again, we will arrange a visit to Romania that includes a stop at Therme Bucuresti.

Here is a video by Grounded Life Travel so you can see even more of this beautiful complex.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

P.S. If you are curious about what it cost us to travel in Europe for eight months (including a month in Bucharest) check out Wind and Whim’s 2018 Travel Costs – Europe.

Paris’s Musée d’Orsay: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

Ah, Paris! The City of Lights!

What should you do while visiting this fabled city? Climb the Eiffel Tower, peruse great art at the Louvre, stroll along the Seine? Absolutely.

But in addition to the above, there is one more place you shouldn’t miss, the Musée d’Orsay.

What is The Musée d’Orsay?

The Musée d’Orsay was voted the best museum in the world by Trip Advisor’s Traveler’s Choice Award in 2018.

It is a marvel of Beaux-Arts beauty that houses the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art.

Interior of the Musée d’Orsay with a large gold clock
The museum not only houses masterpieces, it is a masterpiece. Photo by Armand Khoury on Unsplash.com.

With works from 1848-1914, the Musée d’Orsay bridges the gap between the works of the Louvre which span a mind-boggling 25 centuries, from the 6th century BC to the end of the 19th century, and the Museum of Modern Art, whose works span from 1905 to the present day.

Silhouettes of three people in front of the clock window in the Musee d’Orsay
The clock window overlooking the Seine. You can see Sacre Coeur in the distance. Photo by Peter Mitchell on Unsplash.com

From Train Station to Art Museum

The building was originally a train station called Gare d’Orsay. It was designed to get visitors to the site of the Universal Exhibition of 1900.

The Gare d’Orsay sat on the left bank of the Seine, across from the Tuileries and kitty-corner from the Louvre. Because of this auspicious location, the exterior was designed to blend in with the existing architecture.

View of part of the Louvre as seen from the top of the Musée d’Orsay
You can see a corner of the Louvre from the balcony of the Musée d’Orsay.

By 1939 the station had become obsolete because of changes in train design. The building was used for various functions including as a mail center during WWII, a theater, and an auction house. Eventually, it was decided that it would become an art museum.

The museum was inaugurated on Dec 1, 1986. Thankfully the beautiful Beaux-Arts style was preserved.

The Louvre vs. Musée d’Orsay

I have been fortunate to visit the Louvre three times and hope to visit it again. I believe that anyone visiting Paris should experience the Louvre at least once. As the world’s largest art museum with a collection that spans many centuries, you are sure to find something that interests you. But as much as I love visiting the Louvre, I enjoy the Musée d’Orsay more. This is why:

1. It is not intimidating. You can find your way around quite easily and take in a large part of the collection in one day.

Musée d’Orsay has 181,000 sq ft. (almost 17,000 sq. m.) of exhibition space while the Louvre has over 4 times as much. Because of its size, I have always felt a little lost at the Louvre.

To see all 35,000 items on display in the Louvre you would have to walk 9 miles. The Musée d’Orsay displays about 3,000 items at a time.

2. It is not as crowded as the Louvre even though it has over 3 million visitors per year, pandemics notwithstanding. The Louvre has over 10 million visitors per year. We visited Musée d’Orsay on a free day and we didn’t experience the cattle car feeling of the Louvre.

3. I can’t get enough of that gorgeous building.

A Few Pieces From the Collection

Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night over the Rhone
Starry Night Over the Rhône by Vincent van Gogh 1888

This is not the most well-known Starry Night, the one with 2/3 of the canvas filled with flowing and swirling stars and sky. That one can be seen in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Here is more information about these two paintings and the song Vincent by Don McLean.

You can listen to Vincent here.

The painting The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte
The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte 1875

One of my favorites, and not because it features shirtless men (really). I love this because of its unique subject.

Portrait of Julie Manet by Pierre August Renoir
Julie Manet by Pierre August Renoir 1887

Another one of my many favorites. Julie was the daughter of artists Berthe Morisot and Eugene Manet, and the niece of Édouard Manet.

Statue of a nude woman sitting with her head bent forward
La Méditerranée by Aristide Maillol. Note the building detail in the background.

Detail of a hand on an arm of a statue
Detail of Oedipus at Colonus by Jean-Baptiste Hugues

A room in the Musee d’Orsay with the Edgar Degas statue Small Dancer Aged 14 in the forefront
Small Dancer Aged 14 by Edgar Degas – Photo by Christian Storz on Unsplash.com

Where is The Musée d’Orsay?

The museum is on the left bank at 1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur, 75007 Paris, France in the 7th arrondissement. The nearest Metro stop is SolférinoMusée d’Orsay.

Links

Click Here are 10 pieces of must-see art in the Musée d’Orsay by Paris Pass.

And click here to plan your trip to the Musée d’Orsay.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

Featured photo by Pierre Blaché on Pexels.com

The Magnificent Estate of Versailles: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

When Steve and I began our full-time travels in 2018 the first two cities we visited were Barcelona and Paris. Talk about setting the bar high.

Between these two cities, three places ruined us for all others:
La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
Versailles (near Paris)
Cemetery Montmartre in Paris

You can read about why we think Cemetery Montmartre is the coolest cemetery in Paris here.

But right now it is my pleasure to share our impressions of The Palace and Estate of Versailles with you.

The Versailles We All Know

In 2005 I visited Paris with my daughter Stephanie as part of a school trip. One of the activities was a tour of the Palace of Versailles.

The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles
The famous Hall of Mirrors

Our tour included the Palace and the Palace Gardens. We marveled at the over-the-top elegance including the hall of mirrors, heard the stories about people using the corners in the palace as restrooms during its heyday, and saw where Marie Antoinette gave birth in front of an audience. Here is an interesting article about royal birthing practices.

Ornate bed chamber in rose and ivory
A bed chamber in the Palace of Versailles.

Then we spent some time in the palace’s gardens before heading back to Paris.

A formal garden seen from above
Our travel buddy Hedgie enjoying a view of the Orangery as seen from the Palace of Versailles

I came away from that experience amazed by the opulence and overwhelmed by the crowds. Little did I know that I had just scratched the surface of Versailles.

Estate of Versailles includes the Palace, the gardens, the park, the Trianon estate, and several buildings in town.  It covers over 800 hectares or almost 2,000 acres.

A Second Look

Flash forward thirteen years to 2018. Steve and I spent a month in Paris as part of our new life as full-time travelers. We first visited Versailles as part of a bicycle tour on a dismal June day.

As we entered the grounds we were surrounded by open fields full a sheep!

A field with trees and sheep
The first thing we saw as we entered the grounds of Versaille was sheep!

We then proceeded to ride through the grounds where we visited the Trianon Estate, viewed several gardens, and enjoyed lunch on the patio at La Flottille.

A menu being looked at by a toy hedgehog
Our travel buddy Hedgie perusing the menu at a restaurant at Versaille.

At the end of our bicycle tour, we saw the Palace of Versailles. It was just as glorious as I remembered and it left a lasting impression on Steve. Every time we have visited a palace or grand home since then he says: “It’s not Versailles”. Indeed, not too many places can match the grandeur and mystique of this amazing building.

A Third Visit

Our tour through the palace during our bicycle tour had been rushed so we decided to go back on our own another day.

After we braved the crowds in the palace once more we spent the rest of the day exploring the grounds. Even after two days of visiting I feel as if we barely got to know it. We hope to one day return to the town of Versailles for an extended time and spend several days exploring the estate.

A goose standing on gravel
This goose was a surprise too.

A (Very) Brief History of Versailles

This phenomenal place began as a simple hunting lodge for King Louis XIII. A small chateau was built on the site in 1624.

The construction of the palace began in 1661 under Louis XIV. The palace and its elaborate gardens were completed in 1710.

In 1687 King Louis XIV had the Grand Trianon Palace built on the palace grounds.

King Louis XV added the Petite Trianon Palace to the grounds in 1768.

In 1783, during the reign of Louis XVI the Queen’s Hamlet (Hameau de la Reine) was built.

The Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I between Germany and the Allies was signed in the Palace of Versaille in 1919.

The Trianon Estate

This section of the estate consists of 3 main areas described below: The Grand Trianon, The Petit Trianon, and The Queen’s Hamlet. The estate grew from the time of Louis XIII through Louis XVI. I find it hard to keep the Louis straight. I wish they had been more original when naming their heirs.

The Grand Trianon

This beautiful creation of pink marble and a type of rock called porphyry is located in the northwest corner of the estate. It was built in 1687 at the request of Louis XIV of France, who was known as The Sun King. He had it built as a place to escape the structures of life in the Palace of Versailles and spend time with his favorite mistress, Marquise de Montespan.

Here are 7 Fascinating Facts about Louis XIV.

The Palace has two wings which each house a royal apartment. They are connected by a colonnade called The Peristyle.

A grand walkway with pink marble columns
The walkway between the two wings of the Grand Trianon.

The furnishings were lost during the French Revolution. They were replaced during the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. Those are mostly what you will see in the palace.

This page on the en.chateauversailles.fr website is full of fascinating information about this palace.

The Grand Trianon Palace in history:

On June 4, 1920, the Trianon Treaty was signed here. The treaty formally ended World War I between most of the Allies of World War I and the Kingdom of Hungary. The result was that Hungary lost 70% of its land and all of its seaports. It remains a source of sorrow and anger for Hungarians a century later.  Learn more about that in the article Hungary: Why is the Trianon Treaty So Controversial? from Kafkadesk.

From 1963 – 1966 the Grand Trianon was restored for use by President Charles de Gaulle.

The Petit Trianon

In the mid-1700s King Louis XV decided to build a chateau in the middle of his gardens. The three-story neoclassical building was completed in 1768. When Louis XV died in 1774 Louis XVI ascended the throne. He gifted the Petit Trianon to his wife, Marie-Antoinette.

The Petit Trianon
The Petit Trianon

The young queen used the Petit Trianon to escape the formality and demands of royal life. It is reported that she was in the garden in October of 1789 when first told of the armed crowd that would force the royal family to Paris during the early part of the French Revolution.

For one year, from 1794-1795, the furniture, artwork, and other valuables were auctioned off.

During the revolution the building was used as a hostel and a tavern, causing it to fall into disrepair. The building was restored by Napoleon I to be used by his sister and by the Empress Marie-Louise.

Learn more about The Petit Trianon here.

The Queen’s Hamlet

A century after The Grand Trianon Palace was built, a model village was added to the Trianon Estate. This village of small, rustic buildings formed a crescent around an artificial lake. It included a working farm that was used for the royal children’s education.

A rustic stone building with a tower
One of the buildings in the Queen’s Hamlet.

The buildings were not built for longevity and suffered from the weather during the French Revolution. From 1810-1812 Napoleon had most of them restored. A few were beyond repair and were demolished.

The hamlet underwent various restoration projects in the 20th century as well. One done in the 1930s was made possible by a donation from John D. Rockefeller.

In 2006 the farm was reconstructed and is currently home to many animals who are looked after by the Foundation for Animal Welfare.

Here is more information about this wonderful hamlet.

And There is Even More!

Did you know that the gardens on the estate boast over 200 statues, making it the largest open-air sculpture museum in the world?

There is also an orangery featuring orange, lemon, pomegranate, palm, and oleander trees. Some of the trees are more than 200 years old. They are housed in the Orangery during the winter and displayed outside in the summer.

There are also groves, which are like little parks in the woods, numerous fountains, and pathways.

Latona’s fountain
Latona’s fountain

As if that weren’t enough, you can visit the Gallery of Coaches in the Great Sables. Here you will marvel at the intricacy of the horse-drawn carriages of the past.

Whoo, That’s a Lot to See

All this information can be overwhelming. One thing is certain, the Estate of Versailles will provide days worth of exploration.

While researching this article I found out how little I know about Versaille’s complex and fascinating history. I have done my best to be accurate. If you find something that is incorrect, kindly let me know. Thank you.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

One Last Thing

While researching this article I discovered a fundraising campaign on the Chateau de Versailles website to replace funds lost because of reduced attendance during the pandemic. If you love Versailles and can afford to help here is the information.

 

Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

In the summer of 2018, Steve and I visited Croatia’s capital city of Zagreb. We loved exploring the various museums, relaxing at Jarun Lake, visiting our first cat café, and strolling through the peaceful Zagreb Botanical Garden. But the most memorable place we visited in the city was The Museum of Broken Relationships. To date, it is the most unique museum we have visited. 

The museum is a varied collection of items that at one time played a part in a relationship. Each item comes with a short story about the relationship.

A Brief History

The museum is the no-longer-in-love-child of two Zagreb based artists, film producer Olinka Vištica, and sculptor Dražen Grubišić. When their four-year relationship came to an end in 2003 they joked about opening a museum to display the artifacts of their relationship. In 2006 they started collecting items and stories related to their friends’ break-ups. 

From 2006 through 2010 the collection was displayed in various cities around the world. During its tour, it collected more artifacts. In 2010 the collection got a permanent home in Zagreb’s first privately owned museum.

An Award

In 2011 the museum received the Kenneth Hudson Award. This award is given out by the European Museum Forum to recognize unusual, daring, and controversial exhibits that challenge common perceptions of the role of museums in society.

The judging panel had this to say about the museum:

“The Museum of Broken Relationships encourages discussion and reflection not only on the fragility of human relationships but also on the political, social, and cultural circumstances surrounding the stories being told. The museum respects the audience’s capacity for understanding wider historical, social issues inherent to different cultures and identities and provides a catharsis for donors on a more personal level.”

A Reason to Visit

If for no other reason, the uniqueness of this museum is a great reason to visit. History, art, and science museums can be found in virtually every city. Not so with relationship museums. You may have a chance to see a collection like this elsewhere, but don’t count on it.

There was a Museum of Broken Relationships in Los Angeles, but as of this writing, it is permanently closed. And from March 2019 through March 2020 the York Castle Museum in the United Kingdom had a temporary exhibit.

You should visit it because it’s fun, it’s sad, and it’s a little weird. You can’t begin to anticipate the things you will see here. I guarantee at least one or two of them will remain with you long after your visit.

A word of warning: even though we did take our travel buddy Hedgie, you shouldn’t assume this is appropriate for children. Based on what we saw I would rate it PG-13.

Here are a few examples of the things you will see:

I find this one particularly memorable because I can’t imagine why anyone would want to tear the legs off of a caterpillar, even a toy one.

But Wait, There’s More

The majority of the displays have to do with the death of romantic relationships. But there is one section that deals with the end of non-romantic relationships. These displays included many heartbreaking letters of people wondering why a parent had left them. You might want to bring some tissues.

Where to Find the Museum

The museum is at Ćirilometodska ul. 2, 10000, Zagreb, Croatia. Get all the information you need here.

Safe and happy traveling,

Linda

Featured image: Hedgie in one of the display items.

Is Full-Time Travel Right for You?

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It may seem strange that I am writing about full-time travel during a pandemic. But the pandemic will not last forever. While it lasts we all have plenty of time to dream and plan.

It’s a dream shared by many. Leave behind the hassles of daily life and travel the world. See faraway places, have exciting adventures, and meet interesting people.

Steve and I are fortunate to be full-time travelers who happen to be retired. But even if you aren’t ready to retire you can travel the world full-time as a digital nomad. There are countless people doing this and many of them generously share their stories and tips.

You may be asking yourself if full-time travel (or a nomadic lifestyle if you prefer) is right for you. Below are five signs that this lifestyle may be right for you, and five signs that it may not be.

Full-time travel may be for you if:
1. You thrive on change

If you are the type of person who is always wondering what is next in life this may be a perfect fit. Nomads need never get tired of the same old scenery. They can change locations as often as they wish (pandemics notwithstanding) or they can choose to stay somewhere longer depending on visa restrictions.

2. You are curious and love to learn new things

Whatever your passion, travel is sure to broaden it. You may even discover new interests.

One of the things I love best about travel is that it has made history come to life for me. I have never been a history buff, but seeing where things happened and hearing stories that I was not exposed to in the U.S. have made me understand and appreciate history.

Another thing that I love is learning about geography first hand. Hearing about or reading about places leaves me uninspired. Experiencing them has ingrained them into my soul.

How much you experience is limited only by your energy and your wallet. Every location has a variety of sights and activities to add to your experiences.

3. You are not tied down to a specific location

When we told people we were going to be traveling full-time several of them said they could never do that because they couldn’t leave their grandchildren. I totally get that. Since we don’t have grandchildren it was not an issue for us. Funny, no one ever said they couldn’t leave their adult children.

Steve and I are both introverts who value our private time. We miss our family and friends, but we did not spend most of our free time with them before we left the U.S. If you are constantly getting together with family and friends and love that part of your life, this is not for you. Even if you keep in contact through the internet, the lack of face-to-face contact and the changes in your life experiences can be hard on relationships.

When you get together with people from home you may find that you don’t have a lot to talk about. You may wonder why they aren’t on the edge of their seats waiting to hear about your worldwide adventures.  This article published by Forbes explains this phenomenon well.

4. You are flexible and adaptable

We all know that things can and will go wrong when you travel. Flights get delayed, luggage gets lost, accommodations disappoint. If you are the type of person who can accept these situations with grace and believes that things go right much more often than they go wrong, a nomadic life may be a good fit for you.

Not only can getting there be a challenge but living somewhere unfamiliar requires acceptance and adaptability too. Our first Airbnb was in Barcelona. It had a small kitchen. So small that the refrigerator was in the living room. It also had a clothes washer. That was on the roof. This life is not for the persnickety.

You can read about some of our early Airbnb experiences in Lessons from Airbnb. 

5. You value experiences more than things

It is easy to get caught up in the trap of materialism. If you are able to let go of material things that are tying you down not only will you be free to travel full-time, you will feel freer too.

Full-time travel is probably not a good fit if:
1. You don’t like change or uncertainty

If you dislike change this lifestyle is not for you. If you strongly dislike change you are probably not even reading this article.

2. You are tied to an area because of friends, family, or job

Besides not wanting to leave grandchildren, another reason for not wanting to leave home is caring for elderly parents or a special needs child. If you are in one of those situations and would like to travel hopefully you can get away once in a while for a well-deserved break.

Your job can also be the reason you can’t pick up and go. Some jobs can be done remotely, some, not so much.

3. You are really picky about food and brands

The Rolling Stones weren’t singing about travel but they could have been with their song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. If you are not adaptable to substitutes you are likely to be disappointed. You can carry some of your preferred brands with you, and some travelers have items shipped from home.

The flip side is that you may fall in love with certain foods or products that you can’t find once you leave a location. I tried but failed to duplicate the cava sangria I had in the coastal Spanish town of Sitges. The ceviche I had in Budapest fell far short of the wide variety I enjoyed in South America.  And I am still looking for the face cream I found in Colombia.

4.You aren’t willing to give up your creature comforts

Every bed will not be as comfy as yours. And in our experience, most sofas in our Airbnb rentals score poorly on the comfort test. I miss my cozy terrycloth bathrobe and have to make do with less than luxurious towels. Cooking can be a challenge if you don’t have the right tools and equipment. Your wardrobe will also be limited.

The list of things you will have to leave behind is very long. Only you can decide how important these things are to your happiness.

Of course, if money is not an object you can always travel at a 5-star level to get the fluffy towels and cozy robes. Personally, we are willing to do with some inconveniences in order to save money.

5. Pets are a (really) important part of your life.

If you can’t imagine life without Fido or Fluffy this is not for you. You can meet cats and dogs on the street and at animal cafes, but they won’t come home and snuggle with you.

When Steve and I left the U.S we only had one pet in our home. That was a rabbit that belonged to one of our daughters. We were lucky to find a great home for her. Before that, we were keeping that same daughter’s cats while she was in college. One of the things I miss the most is having them snuggle with me at night or cozy up on my lap.

Tuxedo cat lying on a bed
I miss this little snuggle bunny (Hershey Boy) so much!

You can see photos of some of the cats and dogs that have made me smile in 20 Captivating Cats Around the World and 24 Delightful Dog Photos from Around the World.

Only you can decide if full-time travel is right for you. I can guarantee one thing. If you decide to do it, you will never be the same.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image by Alireza Soltani on Pexel.com

Pickpocketed In Barcelona: A Wind and Whim Travel Story

When you repeatedly hear that you are in the pickpocket capital of the world, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY.

Despite the warnings, Steve was confident that if he kept his wallet in his front pocket it would be safe.

During our first week in Barcelona, the first city we visited on our journey throughout the world, Steve was pickpocketed.

How It Happened

It happened on a crowded Metro car on a Friday afternoon. First one woman bumped into him. While she was apologizing another woman bumped him on the other side. As the doors were closing they jumped off the car, taking his passport, forty Euros, and three bank cards with them.

We were shocked, angry, and unsure of what to do. A lady who saw what happened suggested we go back to the stop where it happened and check the garbage bags in case the thieves took the cash and threw everything else away. Fortunately, the bags were clear and not too full so they were easy to check. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any of Steve’s items.

We decided to go to the police station but had no idea where it was so we asked a young man on the street. He pointed us in the right direction but we arrived at the station only to find it was permanently closed. Struggling to maintain our composure, we asked for help at a nearby store. The owner helped Steve find the next closest police station while I stood on the street calling our banks.

We easily found that station and couldn’t believe it when we saw a sign that said, “Temporarily Closed for Renovations”. This was truly an “are you kidding me?” moment. Luckily there were several policemen just leaving a meeting and they directed us to a third station. It was a tense walk down the Ramblas as we wondered if it would be open.

And after a short wait, we were able to make a report with a policeman who spoke English. He said we must go to the U.S. Consulate first thing Monday morning to report the stolen passport. He prepared the police report and asked Steve to sign it. It was all in Spanish, but Steve had no choice but to sign it since he needed it to get a replacement passport.

Statistics on the number of pickpocket incidents are hard to come by. We knew the number in Barcelona was high, but we were shocked when the police officer told us that they process 400 reports a day. Of course, not everyone is going to report a pickpocketing incident, especially if the only thing stolen was cash. They know they will never see that again. Sometimes people don’t even realize they have been pickpocketed. They may think they lost their wallet or phone.

Over the weekend Steve looked up information on the consulate. The website said you must make an appointment online, and the next available appointment was more than two weeks away.
We opted to go there in person on Monday and plead ignorance about the online scheduling. After all, the police officer did tell us to go first thing Monday.

While at the consulate we met several groups of Americans who had either been pickpocketed or had their rental cars burglarized. We bonded over our misfortune. When it was Steve’s turn he was informed that his passport had been found and was waiting at the Metro station lost and found. Good news since a replacement costs $145.

As frustrating and time consuming as this experience was, it could have been worse. The thieves tried to charge $900 worth of shoes, but our credit card company declined it. Luckily I still had one debit card in my name that we could still use while we waited for our replacement cards. And we had enough cash in our apartment to cover us for several days. The fact that we were still going to be in Barcelona for three more weeks was also good. We would be there when our replacement cards arrived and the loss of Steve’s passport didn’t have immediate repercussions. Several of the people we met at the consulate had to change flight and cruise plans because their passports had been stolen.

After this Steve bought a camera bag that he refers to as his purse and his first money belt. We no longer carry all of our bank cards in the same place.

Cities With the Most Pickpockets

Petty crime can happen anywhere. However, there are several cities that continually make the list of the most pickpocketed cities in the world. This list is from an article published by Clever Travel Companions in 2018:

1. Barcelona, Spain
2. Rome, Italy
3. Prague, Czech Republic
4. Madrid, Spain
5. Paris, France
6. Florence, Italy
7. Buenos Aires, Argentina
8. Amsterdam, Netherlands
9. Athens, Greece
10. Hanoi, Vietnam

Common Pickpocketing Scams

Pickpocketing scams are limited only by the thieves’ creativity and acting ability. Here are just a few to be aware of:

1. Being offered something out of the blue. A woman offers another woman a pretty flower as if it were a gift. The second woman takes it and quickly finds out that payment is expected. I saw this happen to one woman. The thief was so bold that she tried to take money from the money holder around the tourist’s neck.

2. Being bumped by a person. Of course, you look their way, giving their partner a chance to pickpocket you. This was the one used on Steve.

3. Being asked to fill out a petition, usually by a young, harmless-looking woman. While your attention is on that, her partner in crime is relieving you of your valuables.

4. Being distracted by a shell game. I have not seen this one on any lists I’ve checked, but I believe it has to be a scam. We watched a man running a shell game near the Eiffel Tower. He would pick a spectator and ask him to watch while he moved three cups around. It ended with the spectator making some easy cash. I am sure that easy cash was a pittance compared to what was lifted from other unsuspecting spectators during the game. When we tried to get a photo of the group many of those gathered around covered their faces.

There are many more scams. This article by The Professional Hobo shares some travelers’ first-hand experiences.

How To Avoid Being Pickpocketed

Protecting your valuables from the grubby hands of pickpockets should start before you leave for your trip. Here are three things you can do ahead of time:

1. Make a copy of your passport. When you are sightseeing there is no reason to carry the original. Keep it locked safely away in your lodgings.

2. Record the information on your bank cards: card number, account number it ties to, and the phone numbers for customer service.

3. Activate text or email alerts for your bank cards and accounts.

Continue your vigilance while you are traveling:

1. Don’t carry all your cash and cards in one place. Consider leaving what you don’t need for the day safely in your lodgings.

2. Use money belts or other devices designed to keep your valuables safe. Pockets of pants are not a good choice whether in front or back. The harder it is for you to get to your money or cards, the harder it will be for thieves.

3. Trust no one! I know this goes against how most of us feel, but particularly when you are in a crowded place, make it obvious that you are protecting your bag or backpack. Honest people should not be offended by this. It is not uncommon to see people wearing their backpacks in front in places that are notorious for pickpocketing like Barcelona’s Las Ramblas.

4. Be skeptical. If someone tries to give you something you didn’t ask for or asks you to answer a survey, walk away. Remember that pickpockets can be any age and may look very respectable. They are also great actors.

5. Get aggressive if necessary. While Steve and I were sitting in a nearly empty metro station in Paris a woman approached me and said something in French. I did not understand and let her know. My actions should have made it obvious that I wanted no further interaction. She got closer and I held up my hand in a stop gesture. She continued to get even closer, so I loudly said “get back”. I got some looks, but she got the message.

What to Do If You Are Pickpocketed

If in spite of your best efforts you do become a victim of a pickpocket there are the things you need to do:

1. Take a deep breath and let that anger out.

2. Check nearby trash cans. Most pickpockets are looking for cash. They may toss everything else.

3. File a police report if your passport or insured items were stolen. This will probably be the hardest part since you may not speak the language or have any idea where the nearest police station is. Stay calm. It will all work out. Be aware that you will be required to sign the police report if you need it to get a new passport or file an insurance claim even if you can’t read what you are signing.

4. Call your bank card providers and have your stolen cards canceled. You still have other cards and cash tucked safely away because you have prepared for this, right?

5. Contact your embassy if your passport was stolen to make arrangements for a replacement. Be aware, these are not cheap. All the more reason not to carry your passport if you don’t need to.

6. Contact someone back home if items with your home address were taken. While most pickpockets just want your cash, some may have bigger plans in mind.

Final Thoughts

I think one of the reasons we find pickpocketing so frustrating is that the chances of a pickpocket being caught are very small. Don’t let these vile creatures ruin your next trip.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

Featured photo by Andrea Natali on Unsplash.com

Paris’s Cemetery Montmartre: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

When Steve and I started traveling in 2018 the first two cities we spent a long time in were Barcelona and Paris. Talk about setting the bar high.

Between these two cities there were three places that spoiled us for all others:
La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
Versailles near Paris
Cemetery Montmartre in Paris

Every time we visit a house of worship, a palace, or a cemetery we can’t help comparing it to these three places.

It is my pleasure to share our impressions of Paris’s Cemetery Montmartre with you. Hopefully you will be inspired to visit it if you haven’t already.

A Fascinating Yet Gruesome Start

The problems caused by overcrowding in Paris’s main cemetery, Cimitiere des Innocents, reached a head in 1780 when a wall of a mass grave collapsed, sending corpses tumbling into an adjacent basement. This was the last straw for Cimitiere des Innocents. This cemetery in Paris’s 1st arrondissement had been a concern because of the vast amount of bodies buried there so close to the populous. The city could no longer continue to add to the body count that had been growing for at least six centuries.

Like something out of a horror movie, the remains from Cimitiere des Innocents were eventually relocated. For two years carts covered with black veils would journey through the streets of Paris at night, accompanied by chanting priests. The new resting place was an abandoned quarry in the 14th arrondissement which is now known as The Catacombs.

When the gruesome work was done, Cimitiere des Innocents was destroyed.

Four New Cemeteries Are Born

During this time dozens of parish graveyards, but the city leaders saw the need for more cemeteries in which to bury the newly dead. They also wanted them to be placed far from the city center.

To fill this need, four cemeteries were founded outside the city limits. Montmartre to the north, Montparnasse to the south, Pere Lachaise to the east, and Passy to the west.

The first of the four new cemeteries to open was Pere Lachaise in 1804. In the approximately 25 years from the closure of the Cimitiere des Innocents until the opening of Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the dead were buried in the existing cemeteries.

Montmartre: Not the Most Celebrated Parisian Cemetery

Many lists of the best cemeteries to visit include Pere Lachaise. It has many famous residents including:

Frederic Chopin – Composer, pianist
Jim Morrison –  lead singer for The Doors
Edith Piaf – singer, songwriter, actress
Oscar Wilde – writer

Pere Lachaise is more than double the size of any other cemetery in Paris and about four times the size of Cemetery Montmartre.

It is definitely worth a visit but after visiting both Steve and I preferred Montmartre for three reasons:

First, Montmartre is set on many levels because it is built on an abandoned gypsum quarry. This makes for a more interesting walk and provides more exciting vistas than the flatter Pere Lachaise.

Second, Montmartre is the artistic neighborhood of the same name. Therefore, many of the people buried here were active in the arts, resulting in some unique monuments.

Tombstone with a man’s bbust. His face is in revese relief
A really unique tombstone in Cemetery Montmartre

Third, Montmartre is part of its neighborhood. The vibrance of the area (and how can you not love Montmartre?) can be felt since the cemetery is literally in the thick of things.

Mausoleums with buildings in the background
The living and the dead share the neighborhood

Cemetery Montmartre History and Facts

Cemetery Montmartre was established in an abandoned gypsum quarry that had been used as a mass grave during the French Revolution. The fact that it was a big hole in the ground accounts for its unique topography.

The cemetery opened January 1, 1825 in Paris’s 18th arrondissement.

Its official name is the Cimetiere du Nord.

Its original name was Cimetière des Grandes Carrieres or the Cemetery of the Large Quarries. Why do things always sound more elegant in French?

Cemetery Montmartre covers over 25 acres (10.48 hectares) and is the third-largest in Paris. Pere Lachaise is the largest, and Montparnasse is the second largest.

The Cemetery has always had just one entrance. It is at 20 Avenue Rachel under Rue Caulaincourt.

In 1888 a bridge, the Pont de Caulaincourt, was built over the cemetery. The original plan was to relocated the burial sites that were under the bridge. Some families objected so the bridge was built over some sites.

A bridge overlooking mausoleums and tombs
The Pont de Caulaincourt as seen from inside Cemetery Montmartre

Mausoleums under the Pont de Caulaincourt
Some of the mausoleums that remained under the Pont de Caulaincourt

The cross on top of a mausoleum in between the cross pieces under a bridge
Imagine how careful the engineers had to be

Here is an interesting article that explains more of the history of the bridge over the cemetery.

Who’s Buried in Cemetery Montmartre 
Edgar Degas

I knew that the artist Edger Degas was buried in Cemetery Montmartre and I kept this in mind as I strolled past numerous tombs. At one point I passed one the said Famille de Gas. I thought to myself, what an unfortunate last name (thinking of the English “gas”, not the French).

I finally resorted to looking up Degas’s grave using Find a Grave. Famille de Gas WAS Degas’s gravesite.

Mausoleum of the Famille de Gas
Edgar Degas’s final resting place. Note the two drawings of ballerinas presumably left by young girls.

Emile Zola

The French novelist, playwright, and journalist was originally buried in Montmartre. Five years later his remains were relocated to the Pantheon, the mausoleum where many great French leaders, scientists, writers, and artists are interred.

Family names on the original gravesite of Emile Zola
Names of family members buried in the Zola family gravesite

Dalida

Being from the U.S. I had never heard of Dalida, but her compelling memorial made me want to learn more.

Memorial to the singer Dalida in Cemetery Montmartre
Dalida’s gravesite in Cemetery Montmartre

Dalida was the professional name of a famous French singer from 1956 to 1987. She was very successful in Europe even though she did not release her music to the U.S. or U.K. markets.

She faced many struggles in her personal life including the suicides of several people with whom she was close. She committed suicide in 1987 at the age of 54.

The next time you find yourself in Paris be sure to visit Cemetery Montmartre at 20 Avenue Rachel, 75018.

So Many Cemeteries, So Little Time

During the past few years, we have visited cemeteries in several cities. Of all of cemeteries we have seen so far, Cemetery Montmartre continues to hold a special place in our hearts. But the world is big and there is so much more to see.

Have you been to Cemetery Montmartre? Did you fall in love with it too?

Which cemeteries around the world have you visited and have any of them spoiled you for all others?

Safe and Happy Traveling,
Linda

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10 More Things to Love About Buenos Aires

In the fall of 2019, we spent eight weeks in Buenos Aires. The original plan was to spend four weeks but we liked it so much we decided to stay longer. The positive side of not planning too far in advance.

In a previous article titled “10 Things to Love About Buenos Aires” I talked about 10 things that we really enjoyed during our visit. But my list was longer than 10 things, so here are 10 more things to love about Buenos Aires.

1. El Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookstore

Is this the most beautiful bookstore in the world? Many people think so. It was built in 1919 during a prosperous time for Buenos Aires.

The stage in El Ateneo Grand Splendid

The building was first used as a theater for tango performances. Later it was a cinema. Then it fell into disrepair but was saved from the risk of demolition when it was reincarnated as a book store in 2000.

The first part of the name is from a national bookstore chain. The second part refers to the building whose original name was Teatro Gran Splendid.

In addition to basking in the splendor, you can enjoy refreshments in the cafe. You might even be lucky enough to be there while a pianist is playing. You can also relax in a comfy chair in one of the theater boxes.

The stage and box seats in El Ateneo Grand Splendid

The store is located at Avenida Santa Fe 1860 in the Barrio Norte section of the city in the Recoleta district.

2. Cafe Tortoni

Cafe Tortoni is the most famous historical cafe in Buenos Aires. It has been in operation for more than 160 years. Once a meeting place for the artistic and the elite, it is now a mecca for tourists.

There is often a line outside even though there are tables available inside. You can go there to see a tango show or stop in for a bite to eat. Either way, be sure to check out the huge Tiffany glass ceiling along with the other elegant decor.

the dining room in Cafe Tortoni

Cafe Tortoni was founded by a French immigrant named Touan. He modeled it after his favorite cafe in Paris by the same name. Cafe Tortoni opened in 1858 and has been at its current location since 1880.

Cafe Tortoni is one of many historic cafes (bares notables) in Buenos Aires. They are protected by law, but I was unable to find out anything specific about the law. Check out this article published by The Guardian in 2018 to learn more about bares notables.

Cafe Tortoni is located at Avenida de Mayo 825 between the National Congress Building and the presidential palace (Casa Rosada).

3. Chacarita Cemetery 

Chacarita Cemetery (Cemeterio de la Chacarita) is a lesser know and less-visited cemetery than Recoleta. It was founded in 1871 as a place to bury victims of a yellow fever epidemic.

When it was founded it covered only 12 acres (5 hectares). Today it covers 230 acres ( 93 hectares). It takes up almost half of the territory in the Chacarita barrio where it is located.

A stately building in Chacarita Cemetery
One of the many lovely buildings in the cemetery

Chacarita is more than 16 times the size of Recoleta This means you will not find the crowds here that you will most likely encounter in Recoleta. You can learn more about Recoleta in “10 Things to Love About Buenos Aires.

In Chacarita you will find many beautiful tombs and fascinating catacombs. You will also see some sad situations.

Statues on the tops of tombs

crypts below ground in the Chacarita Cemetery

A damaged tomb in Chacarita Cemetery

Do be careful if you visit this cemetery. We were cautioned more than once to stay aware of our surroundings while we were there because its seclusion increases the risk of theft. Even so, we did not feel unsafe. Here is an interesting article by Will Byers about Chacarita.

Chacarita is located in the Chacarita district. The main entrance is on Avenida Guzman.

4. National Museum of Decorative Arts

I wasn’t too excited about visiting a museum of decorative arts, but I am glad we did. If you enjoy being surrounded by beauty be sure to check out the National Museum of Decorative Arts (Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo).

This neo-classical home was designed by French architect Rene Sergent. It was built with materials imported from Europe. Design began in 1911 but the home wasn’t completed until 1917 because of delays caused by WWI.

It was the home of the Matias Errazúriz and Josefina de Alvear. After they moved in, the couple filled the home with a wide variety of fine art and exquisite decorative pieces. The rooms are decorated in different period styles.

Mr. Errazúriz bequeathed the home and its contents to the Argentine government upon his wife’s death in 1935.

Throughout this museum, you will see wonderful examples of European and Oriental furniture and art. The best way to enjoy this museum is on a tour. They are available in English at set times. We had a guide to ourselves which made for a very informative tour.

A room in the Museum of Decorative Arts
Luxury around every corner

The ballroom in the Museum of Decorative Arts
The ballroom was modeled after the one in the Palace of Versailles.

This museum is at Avenida del Libertador 1902 in the Recoleta district.

5. National Museum of Fine Arts

This National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes) is worthwhile for any art lover. In it, you can enjoy international art from the Middle Ages through the 20th century. It has 3 floors and 30 exhibition rooms. Because of its size, we broke it down into two visits.

A marble bust of Miguel Angel by Pietro Calvi
Bust of Miguel Angel by Pietro Calvi

The painting El Drama by Raquel Forner
El Drama by Raquel Forner

This museum is also located in the Recoleta neighborhood at Avenida del Libertador 1473. It is within walking distance to Recoleta Cemetery.

6. Palacio Barolo

Whatever you do, don’t make the same mistake we did. This spectacular 100-year-old building was right around the corner from our apartment and we had no idea how special it is. Just one more reason to go back!

The building was designed by Mario Palanti for Luis Barolo who made his fortune in knitted fabrics. The building is based on Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Its 22 stories are divided into hell, purgatory, and heaven. Be sure to arrange for a tour to learn all about it.

The facade of Palacio Barolo
The facade of Palacio Barolo

7. Theater Colon

Theater Colon is one of the top opera houses in the world with some of the best acoustics. You can enjoy this opulent theater by taking in a show or taking a tour. Tours are offered in English and Spanish.

The theater was closed for refurbishing from 2006-2010. The results are as spectacular as you would expect.

The main auditorium in Teatro Colon

The Golden Room in Teatro Colon
Part of the Golden Room which was fashioned after Versailles

During our tour, our guide pointed out something I had never heard of, widow boxes. These are seating areas on either side of the theater that are covered with screens. This allowed women who were in mourning to attend a show without being seen in public.

Widow’s boxes in Teatro Colon
Widow’s boxes

The Theater is located at Cerrito 628 in the Microcentro district.

8. ESMA Memory Site Museum

In my post “10 Things to Love About Buenos Aires” I talked about the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. They are a group of women whose adult children were disappeared by the Argentine government from 1976-1983 during the Dirty War.

You can learn more about this dark period of Argentine history by visiting the ESMA Memory Site Museum (Museo Sitio de Memoria ESMA). Photos and stories of the disappeared and survivors help keep the memory of this time alive.

Faces of some of the disappeared at ESMA

Prisoners who were pregnant were allowed to give birth but their babies were usually given to families who supported the government. Then the women were killed. There is a movement to locate the people born in the detention camps.

Words on the floor in the ESMA museum

These words in the museum translate to “How was it possible that children were born in this place?”

This is not a stand-alone museum, but a complex of buildings. We did not allow enough time for our visit. Please don’t make the same mistake.

The museum is at Avenida del Libertador 8151

9. Steak and Malbec

Argentina is famous for its beef. It is lean, flavorful, and nutritious. There are several reasons beef from Argentina is so good:

The cattle are grass-fed, which leads to higher omega 3 fatty acid content. This means less risk of high cholesterol and heart disease.

Because the cattle eat a healthy diet there is less need for antibiotics and growth hormones.

The steak is slow-cooked on a parrilla (a grill heated with wood or coal)

You can learn more about why Argentine beef is the gold standard in this article.

This article explains the use of a parrilla and the concept of the asado.

In Buenos Aires, you can partake of the best cuts of beef for a very reasonable price. One of our favorite restaurants was La Cabrera. To make your visit even better check out their early bird special (don’t worry, it starts at 6:30 p.m.).

You might want to pair that delectable steak with a glass or two of dry, red malbec wine. Even though malbec grapes originated in France, Argentina currently produces 75% of the world’s malbec wine. The grapes are grown in the Province of Mendoza in western Argentina.

Buen apetito!

10. The Neighborhoods

There are 48 official neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, so if you find yourself getting confused don’t feel too bad. As you would expect, we spent most of our time in those that have the most to offer tourists. Here are the six you are most likely to visit as a tourist.

Palermo

This is the largest neighborhood in the city and has been divided into Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood along with other smaller sections. This is the area we stayed in for our first four weeks and it worked out well.

Words like trendy, chic, and nightlife are currently associated with this area. There are plenty of restaurants and shops and it is easy to walk around.

This is the greenest area of the city. This is where you will find Tres de Febrero Park, Jardin Botanico Carlos Thays, and the Japanese Gardens. There are also many peaceful, tree-lined streets.

A tree-line street in Palermo
A tranquil street in Palermo

A unique building in the Palermo neighborhood
Isn’t this a cool building?

Monserrat

I had a little confusion here. The area we stayed in during our second four weeks was usually referred to as Congreso due to the proximity of the National Congress Building. A prime example of the use of informal names for neighborhoods.

This area had a completely different feel from Palermo. For one thing, we didn’t see a lot of dogs, and very little of their leavings.

This is the political center of the country. Both the National Congress building and the Presidential Palace are within walking distance.

There are also a lot of Subte (Metro) stations here, and taxis are plentiful.

An empty Avenida de Mayo
An empty Avenida de Mayo with the Congress building at the end

Recoleta

This affluent and elegant neighborhood is adjacent to Palermo and it really walks the Parisian walk. You will find one stately building after another. This area also houses the famous Recoleta Cemetery and the Museum of Fine Arts, as well as several other museums.

La Boca

Described as a “brightly painted ghetto” by Culture Trip, this working-class neighborhood is considered a must-see for any tourist. Football fans can visit the La Bombonera stadium in this neighborhood. The area is also popular for street art.

The window of the La Perla bar
One of the bares notables in La Boca (photo by Eduardo Sanchez on Unsplash.com)

San Telmo

Considered to be the most authentic of neighborhoods San Telmo is well-known for its street market. It is also a good place for antiquing.

This neighborhood is considered safe during the day, but visitors are cautioned to be careful at night.

Puerto Madera

This is the upscale, modern part of the city. If you are looking for a change of pace from the traditional Buenos Aires vibe, check out this area.

A port was built here at the end of the 19th century but had a very short life. Within fifteen years it was virtually obsolete.

The area spent most of the 1900s in neglect. Efforts to revitalize the area were started in the 1990s. Now you will find high rises, high-end hotels and restaurants, and warehouses-turned-apartments.

In this area, you can also visit the Buenos Aires Ecological Reserve, 865 acres of low land on the Rio de la Plata. It is a great place for a nature walk or a bike ride.

In Conclusion

These are just ten of what we feel were the best parts of our time in Buenos Aires. Of course, there are many other ways to enjoy this very vibrant and cosmopolitan city. No matter what you look for when you travel, you are sure to find it here.

Trip Details

Dates: August 15, 2019 to October 10, 2019
Number of days: 56
Total cost for 2: $7,200
Cost per day for 2: $129

Further Reading

Buenos Aires was just one of the cities we visited during the ten months we spent in Latin America in 2019. To learn about some of the other places we visited check out Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences.

We have also detailed what these ten months cost in Wind and Whim’s 2019 Travel Costs – Latin America.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

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6 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Barcelona

Boisterous and beautiful. That is Barcelona. This city in northeast Spain is a sight to behold and a privilege to visit. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems.

Here are 6 things you should know before visiting (or revisiting) Barcelona.

1. Gaudi’s Creations Grace the City

Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) was a Catalan architect and a master of the Modernisme (or Catalan Art Nouveau) style of architecture. Modernisme is characterized by organic and botanical motifs, symbolism, rich ornamental details, and curves as opposed to straight lines.

Here is information on 21 sites in Barcelona where you can admire Gaudi’s talents. These are three of the most-visited Gaudi sites:

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia (The Sacred Family) is Gaudi’s masterpiece and the culmination of his life’s work. It was so important to him that he chose to be buried inside it. This Roman Catholic minor basilica is the most visited sight in Barcelona.

Stepping into the basilica is a magical experience. The sunlight shining through the stained glass bathes the interior in vibrant colors.

Light coming through colored windows in La Sagrada Familia
This is what greets you when you enter La Sagrada Familia.

Ceiling detail in La Sagrada Familia
Support columns that suggest trees and an exquisitely detailed ceiling.

Be warned, La Sagrada Familia will most likely spoil you for all other churches.

The exterior is as astounding as the interior. Its three facades represent three phases in the life of Jesus: nativity, passion, and glory.

Exterior detail on La Sagrada Familia
One small section of the exterior detail.

Construction began in 1882. The estimated year of completion for all but some decorative elements is 2026. If that deadline is met it will have taken 144 years to build. The year 2026 marks the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death by being run over by a street tram at the age of 74.

Exterior view of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain
You can’t view La Sagrada Familia without seeing the cranes and netting.

La Sagrada Familia gets over 3 million visitors a year. You are unlikely to get in unless you book your visit in advance. You get a 15-minute window to enter the basilica.

Services are held in the crypt every Sunday and can accommodate about 200 people. Mass is held at the main altar only on special holidays.

Here is some information about the structure and symbolism of the basilica.

Casa Mila

Casa Mila is another Gaudi work in the Modernisme style. This was built in the early 1900s as a home for husband and wife Pere Mila and Roser Segimon. The locals thought it was ugly and nicknamed it La Pedrera, which means the stone quarry.

The front of Casa Mila in Barcelona
The front of Casa Mila with its distinctive railings.

The owners lived on the main floor and had apartments above that they rented out. There are people living in some of these apartments today. The building is currently also used as a cultural center, a foundation headquarters, and for commercial space.

The whole building is interesting, but the roof is a delight. This is just one of the many chimneys:

A chimney on top of Casa Mila

Park Guell

No visit to Barcelona is complete without a stop at yet another Gaudi creation, Park Guell.

This was built in the early 1900s at the behest of Count Eusebi Guell as a luxury planned community. Of the sixty houses planned only two were built. It became a public park in 1926.

The park has two parts; a Monumental Zone and a Free Zone.

The Monumental Zone covers 5% of the park. You must buy a ticket to enter and visitors are limited to 400 every half hour.

It is here you will see the iconic dragon stairway. Be sure to visit the Hypostyle Room. It is an open space featuring a multi-domed, tiled ceiling and 86 Doric columns. I missed the opportunity to get some fab photos. Please don’t make the same mistake.

In this zone you will also see gingerbread-style buildings like the one pictured below, the colorfully tiled Greek Theater (or Nature Square), and the laundry room portico.

The tile covered lizard, El Drac, in Park Guell
El Drac will be happy to welcome you to the Monumental Zone.

One of the buildings in the Monumental Zone
This building in the Monumental Zone looks like a gingerbread house, but don’t eat it!

The other 95% of the park is free to visit. It consists of many paths through lush vegetation. Warning, this is not a place for a leisurely stroll. It is hilly and very crowded and street vendors take up a good part of the walkway with their wares.

If you persist upward, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Barcelona.

A view of Barcelona from Park Guell with La Sagrada Familia in the distance
Park Guell is the ideal place to get great views of the city. You can see La Sagrada Familia in the distance.

2. There are Great Non-Gaudi Things To Do Too

You can find many non-Gaudi things to entertain you as well. Stroll the beach at Barceloneta, visit the Montserrat Monastery, shop at La Boqueria, or take a day trip to Cadaques to visit the Salvador Dali House Museum.

Fresh seafood at St. Joseph Market - La Boqueria
Fresh seafood at St. Joseph Market – La Boqueria

Here are four of our favorite non-Gaudi attractions:

Labyrinth de la Horta

Our favorite place in Barcelona was the little known Labyrinth de la Horta. This 22-acre park was once a private residence. The park was established in 1791 and donated to the City of Barcelona by the Desvalls family in 1967. It opened to the public four years later.

As the name suggests it includes a labyrinth. As you stroll through the park you will be surprised by unexpected scenes. Each one is a delight.

Garden and staircase at Parc del Laberint d’Horta
The owner’s back yard.

The labyrinth at Parc del Laberint d’Horta
The labyrinth

We recommend this park if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona for awhile. For most of our visit we did not see another person.

Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau

A hospital wouldn’t usually be high on our sightseeing list but we’re glad we didn’t miss the Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau. The complex of 16 buildings was constructed from 1905-1930. It showcases the work of Modernisme architect Lluis Montaner.

Montaner believed in the therapeutic properties of nature, color, and form. This belief is reflected in the wealth of details both inside and outside of the buildings, and in the gardens.

The courtyard at Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau
The courtyard at Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau

Hospital room in Recinte Modernista de San Pau
Hospital room in Recinte Modernista de San Pau

The hospital was in use until 2009. A new hospital was built in 2003 and in 2014 this one became a museum and cultural center.

Sitges

Sitges is a beach town on the Mediterranean Sea 26 miles (42 km) southwest of Barcelona. We first visited it on a tour with included a stop in Tarragona (below). Even though we were there on a drizzly day we found Sitges to be captivating.

Sitges will beguile you with stately mansions along the promenade, as well as twisty side streets and quaint shops. It also has a sassy side as seen in some of these photos. It has just under 30,000 residents, but in the summer the number of people is close to 100,000.

We were charmed enough to visit it again on our own.

A narrow street with dining tables and chairs in Sitges, Spain
Just one of the many places that says “come explore me”.

People in costume strolling the boardwalk in Sitges, Spain.
The funky side of Sitges

Tarragona

Tarragona is 51 miles (82 km) southwest of Barcelona. It is known for its well-preserved Roman ruins.

The Ferreres Aqueduct in Tarragona
The Ferreres Aqueduct

The Tarragona Amphitheater
The Tarragona Amphitheater

3. They Have Cava and Cava Sangria

Cava is the Spanish equivalent of Champagne. Almost all of it is produced in the Catalonian region of Spain.

A pitcher of cava sangria
Doesn’t this look delish?

Cava can be used to make cava sangria. It is especially enjoyable while overlooking the Mediterranean Sea on a sunny day. Be sure to give it a try when you visit the area and let me know what you think.

I tried to make it when we returned to Florida, but it just wasn’t the same. I guess I’ll have to return to Catalonia.

4. It’s Really Crowded

There are simply too many people in Barcelona. One reason is that it is very densely populated. Only 1.6 million people live in the city. However, the population density is 16,000 people per sq. km. (compare this to New York City’s density of 10,700 people per sq. km).

A second reason is that over 30 million people visited Barcelona in 2017. Of these more than 2/3 were day-trippers including cruise passengers visiting the city as one of their ports of call.

Cruise passengers come into the city by the thousands yet usually only visit for the day. They tend to go to the most popular sights like the Gaudi attractions listed above.

In an effort to control tourism the city passed a law in 2017 that forbids the building of new hotels even if they are replacing existing ones. You can read more about that here.

Barcelona continues to struggle with solutions to its overtourism problem as detailed in the July 12, 2019 Forbes article.

5. It’s Really Noisy

Because Barcelona is so crowded it is also very noisy. The noise is due to the large amount of traffic. Many people ride motorcycles which adds significantly to the road noise. It is not unusual to see people slowly ride their motorcycles onto the sidewalks.

Even with our windows closed we never got a break from the traffic noise.

A young woman in high heels riding a scooter
A common scene as we sat on our balcony

6. Pickpocketing is a Persistent Problem

When you repeatedly hear that you are in the pickpocket capital of the world, take it seriously.

A quick Google search of several websites show Barcelona is the city in which you are most likely to be pickpocketed, followed by Rome.

While these petty thefts can happen anywhere, the Metro and any crowded tourist attraction or area (think La Sagrada Familia and Las Ramblas), are especially worrisome.

It is not uncommon to see people walking with their backpacks on their chests to keep them safe. Simply put, you can’t be too careful or too paranoid about pickpockets in Barcelona.

You can read all about our pickpocketing experience in our post Pickpocketed in Barcelona.

Our Personal Take on Barcelona

In two years of travel one thing has been constant. That is the warmth and kindness we have been met with. The one exception was in Barcelona.

For example, we visited a nearby supermarket nearly every day and used our basic Spanish, but never got a smile out of the cashiers. We did not take this personally. As we watched the crowds from our balcony we did not see many smiles.

We enjoyed learning the history behind the famous sights and taking in the beautiful architecture and street art but we didn’t love Barcelona. Were our expectations too high? Were there too many unfriendly people? Did listening to the constant street noise get old really fast? Probably a little of all these things.

We feel fortunate to have experienced Barcelona. In light of the city’s serious issues with overtourism, we will probably not return soon. If we do, it would be to visit nearby towns combined with a shorter stay in Barcelona. And definitely a return trip to Labyrinth de la Horta.

Trip Details

Dates: April 22 to May 23, 2018
Number of days: 31
Total cost for 2: $3,600
Cost per day for 2: $116

More Information

You can find out what we spent during our first 8 months as full-time travelers in Wind and Whim’s 2018 Travel Costs – Europe.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image of the Arc de Triomf by Leo Korman on Unsplash.com

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10 Things To Love About Buenos Aires

It was love at first sight. Within a day or two of arriving in Buenos Aires, we knew we wanted to stay longer than the four weeks we had planned. We ended up staying for eight weeks and we still didn’t want to leave.

These are many reasons we fell in love with this amazing city and we think you will love it too. Here are 10 things to love about Buenos Aires:

1. It’s Paris Without the Price Tag

Buenos Aires is sometimes referred to as the Paris of South America. Granted, there is no Eiffel Tower, no Louvre, and everyone speaks Spanish. But the city, with its turn of the century architecture, has the ability to make you think you are in the city of lights.

Buenos Aires is full of wide boulevards, stately buildings, and massive monuments. Several times I had to remind myself that I wasn’t in Paris. I wasn’t even in Europe.

From the 1880s through the 1920s Buenos Aires was one of the richest, fastest-growing cities in the world and this is reflected in the magnificent architecture. Many neoclassical, art nouveau, and art deco masterpieces grace this city.

The French Embassy in Buenos Aires
My favorite building in Buenos Aires; the French Embassy

Click to view five more examples of beautiful Buenos Aires architecture:

2. Fabulous Food at Paltry Prices

Continue reading “10 Things To Love About Buenos Aires”

Bansko, Bulgaria: Not the Trip We’d Hoped For: A Wind and Whim Travel Story

I could picture it so well. The crisp air, the snow-covered pines, the stillness of a landscape blanketed in white. Days spent swooshing down the mountain until exhaustion set in. Nights snuggled up in a cozy apartment, watching the snow gently falling outside.

After living in Florida for thirty years, I couldn’t wait to spend some time in a winter wonderland. After some research, I found the ski town of Bansko, Bulgaria. Three weeks of skiing there would cost about the same as five days at a U.S. or Canadian ski resort.

We made plans to head there in early January 2020 as the first stop in our third year of full-time travel. It didn’t turn out anything like I had imagined.

Note: all money is in USD.

Reality Rears Its Ugly Head

When we arrived in Bansko, the winter wonderland was woefully absent. The daily highs in town were in the forties, and not a flake of snow nor patch of ice could be found. The mountainside ski slopes fared a little better, but not much. Damn you, global warming!

Gondolas and melting snow
Receding snow at the bottom of the mountain

Throughout our nine weeks there, we watched the snow repeatedly fall then melt, which made the ski slopes very icy.

Woman walking through the snow in Bansko
Each snowfall raised my hopes, only to have them dashed when it melted.

Even so, we tried to make the best of it. We woke up to rain on our first day of skiing. The folks at the ski shop assured us that it was not raining on the mountain, and they were right. There was a very welcome light snow all day.

Both of us had a lesson to refresh our skills and a chance to ski on our own. Then we made plans to put our rejuvenated skills to the test by taking a long but easy run together.

A Turn For the Worst

We weren’t more than ten minutes into it when I hit a steep icy section and found myself sliding quickly down the mountain. With repeated reminders to myself to snowplow, lean forward, and remain calm, I made it down that part. I stopped to wait for Steve but did not see him.

After a little while, I figured he either passed me and I missed him, or he was taking his time and would catch up.

When I reached the bottom of the run, he was nowhere to be seen. After some hunting, I found him in the doctor’s office with a fractured pelvis! This diagnosis meant he would be hospitalized for about a week, then require complete bed rest for two more weeks.

After being checked out by the doctor at the ski resort, Steve was transported by ambulance to a hospital in the nearby town of Razlog. He ended up spending nine days there. You can read about that less than ideal experience in Hospitalized in Bulgaria!

Man lying in a hospital bed waving a white flag
Steve, on the day he left the hospital. I was amazed by his positive attitude despite the pain and lee-then-ideal hospital experience.

A Great Place to Recuperate

Since Steve would need to be transferred to our apartment lying flat, we had to leave our Airbnb, and I had to find a place that would allow him to be brought in by paramedics.

That was no easy task because virtually every apartment and hotel had either stairs or an elevator that was too small for the stretcher. It took three days, but I finally found a place about 10 miles from Bansko at the Redenka Holiday Club. They had the perfect first-floor one-bedroom apartment.

We stayed there for four weeks. It is in the country (my taxi was held up by a herd of cattle crossing the road one night), but it has a spa, indoor pool and hot tub, and a fitness room. Oh darn!

Indoor pool and spa at the Redenka Holiday Club
The indoor pool and spa at the Redenka Holiday Club, not a bad place to spend four weeks

We were able to get the half board, so breakfast and dinner were included. Whoopee, no cooking or dishes!

Photo of a salad
This was just the first course of dinner.

The staff was friendly and helpful and always asked about Steve. I joked that he was a celebrity even before anyone had met him.

We appreciate all the help the staff gave us and are honored to have left there with several new friends.

Unexpected Delights

Even when things don’t go as planned, there is always something interesting or beautiful to see.

I left the hospital to go to the Telenor store to top up Steve’s SIM card. It was a short walk. Until then, I had only seen the seamier side of Razlog. On my way back I came across this charming scene in a small park.

Man and woman statue in lake
A little greenery in the winter landscape

When I returned to the hospital, the road was filled with people in native dress and furry costumes. They were having a grand old time dancing and banging their drums.

People dancing in furry costumes
A Kukeri celebration

A little research told me this is a Kukeri festival. It occurs between New Year’s Day and Lent. Its purpose is to drive away evil spirits and provide a good harvest, health, and happiness during the coming year. Why anyone thought it was a good idea to hold it in front of a hospital is beyond me.

Making Friends

We made several friends during this time, including this four-legged sweetheart.

Dog bowing in play
Bansko loves to greet the folks who visit the Redenka Holiday Club

Bansko is a dog that hangs out at Redenka but knows better than to enter the buildings. I thought Bansko was a girl. One morning I was telling her what a good girl she was when a guy came by and said, “It’s a boy, and he doesn’t understand English.” What ?!?!

No matter what language he understands, he is well-loved and well-fed by the staff and guests at Redenka.

In a case of serendipity, I met a physiotherapist one morning at breakfast when I uncharacteristically struck up a conversation with him by asking if he spoke English. It turned out the Dimitar not only spoke English very well but was also incredibly helpful with advice while Steve was still bedridden. He also worked with Steve once he was up and about.

While Steve was in the hospital, a young woman who was also a patient struck up a conversation with me. Aleksandra is a student in Bulgaria and a thoughtful and delightful young lady. After Steve became mobile we enjoyed a delicious dinner with her.

Steve, Linda, And Aleksandra at dinner.
Steve, Aleksandra, and me at dinner.

And last, but certainly not least, we were privileged to get to know Anna and Tommy Orhan at Succuk Burger House and Cafe. The food is excellent, but the service is what kept us coming back. These two, along with the rest of their family, really care about their customers.

Four people in a restaurant
Enjoying our last visit with Anna and Tommy

Seeing the Sights

Bansko is a small town ski town (pop. 8,600), so attractions are somewhat limited. However, beauty is everywhere, as I discovered on a Sunday morning outing.

Bulgarian girls dancing in Bnasko
A Sunday morning show for charity

A visit to the Neofit Rilski House Museum taught me about this Bulgarian renaissance man. He was a monk, an artist, a translator, and a teacher. He was also the founder of Bulgarian secular education.

Room in an eighteenth century house
One of many comfortable looking rooms in the Neofit Rilski house

Kitchen in an eighteenth century home
The bread baking room

The best sight by far in Bansko is the Pirin mountains that surround the town. It seems that wherever you go, you can see them.

Ski mountain in Bansko
Ski mountain teasing us with her inadequate snowfall

We had an amazing view of them from both the living room and the bedroom at our third apartment and frequently commented on how much we would miss them.

Clouds in the Pirin Mountains
The view from our balcony

Why I Won’t Ski Bansko Again

When I was researching ski resorts, I was looking for an affordable place where you don’t need a car. Bansko was one of those places.

The town is compact. You can walk practically anywhere, and taxis are readily available. You also can’t beat the cost. A daily lift ticket is $38.  Ski rental, including a helmet, is $30 per day. Lodging is also a bargain. We booked an Airbnb for three weeks for less than $900.

Unfortunately, there was so much I didn’t know about skiing there. While the infrastructure is good with well-groomed runs and modern lifts, I found several negative things.

As a disclaimer, all my previous skiing had been on the East Coast of the U.S. on very small mountains. It may be that what I found in Bansko is common in Europe. Either way, these are the things that made the experience less than ideal:

You have to take a twenty-minute gondola ride up the mountain to get to the ski resort. The gondola itself is not bad, but getting to it is a hassle. Not only are the lines often very long, but you have to go up a long set of stairs to get to the loading area. Not easy to do in ski boots.

The line works well until you get towards the top of the stairs and try to get into a gondola car. At this point, it becomes a contact sport.

The rudeness continues at the entrances to the lifts. There are no lines, only surging crowds.

The other thing I found odd was that the entrances to the lifts were raised up, so everyone was trying to move up and into a slot while being pushed and crowded.

I also did not see any information on ski conditions. The only way to see the conditions is to go up the mountain. One day I went up, and between the ice and the large number of inexperienced skiers on the slopes, I felt unsafe and cut it short. Bansko is very popular with new skiers from Europe and the U.K. partly because of the low cost. That also means that the slopes get very crowded.

As Steve’s accident showed, there was no warning of dangerous conditions and runs were kept open even when they had significant icy patches.

The last thing that was frustrating was how lift passes were handled. The company I rented from only sold you a pass if you booked two or more consecutive days with them. I was told to buy one at the bottom of the gondola station.

The gondola starts running at 8:30 a.m. On a busy day the line is already quite long by that time. The ticket booth doesn’t open until 8:30, so you stand there watching the line to the gondola getting longer by the minute while waiting to get a lift ticket.

But that isn’t inefficient enough. A sign clearly says they accept VISA, so I chose to pay that way. The clerk rang up my purchase and I paid. Then she asked if I had 5 leva in cash for the deposit on the lift card. I did, but it was tucked away in my money belt, so she rang up a separate charge. All while the line to get the lift ticket was growing and growing. Why they don’t charge it all at once is totally beyond me.

Moving On

Our trip to Bansko did not turn out as we anticipated, but even so, we left with many warm memories. As we often find, it is the people we meet as we travel that have the greatest impact on us. Hopefully, the feeling is mutual.

Steve has skied his last slope. I, however, intend to try again next winter. I welcome any suggestions about great ski resorts that don’t require you to have a car.

Trip Details

Dates: January 9 – Mach 12, 2020
Number of days: 63
Travel costs: $8,800
Travel cost per day: $140
Addition costs (medical): $1,600
Total spent: $10,400

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

Featured image by Ben White on Unsplash.com

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Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences

When you are heading to a new location you think about the famous sights you plan to see. But often your best memories are of the little things that no trip planning could have anticipated.

From February through November of 2019 we traveled throughout Latin America. These are ten of our most memorable travel experiences from those ten months (in no particular order).

1. Riding Scooters in the Galapagos Islands

Woman riding an electric scooter

I may look like a nerd, but I just don’t care. This was the best day we had in the Galapagos.

We rented scooters in town and rode them into the countryside to visit the El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve on Santa Cruz Island.

Galapagos tortoise with grass in his mouth

We ran into this adorable guy at the reserve.

Galapagos tortoise crossing the street

This fellow couldn’t be contained. We saw him crossing the road on our way back to town.

Horse standing in the road

We also saw this free-range horse just walking down the road.

Read more about our four weeks in the Galápagos Islands here.

2. Spending Three Days in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

We took the bus from the capital of San Jose to the Caribbean coast. When we arrived in Puerto Viejo our first thought was “where the heck are we?” This place looked kind of rough. The name translates into “old port”, so that should have been a clue.

It didn’t take us long to see the charm. By the afternoon we were in love. The beach is just yards away from a wooded hiking area where you can see wild howler monkeys and sloths.

A beachside restaurant

Many restaurants line the beach and embody the phrase “pura vida” (pure life).

Sloth hanging upside down

We enjoyed a visit to the Jaguar Rescue Center. The name is misleading because they rescue and rehabilitate many species. We learned that many sloths are injured or killed when they chew through electric wires.

The sloth above, who lives at the center, was just hanging around in the open.

Puerto Viejo is the most laid back place I have ever been and I hope to visit it again someday.

3. Visiting Machu Picchu

This is the only tourist attraction to make my top ten. I am not a big fan of Pre-Colombian history, so I questioned whether it would be worth the hassle and cost to get there.

It definitely was. There is something magical about this place.

A view of Machu Picchu

It is not quick or easy to get to Machu Picchu. You have two choices, hike for about four days (definitely not for the couch potato) or make your way to the town of Cusco, Peru then take a train to Machu Picchu Town (or Aguas Calientes).

Linda resting after the Machu Picchu tourIf you chose to get there through Cusco you need to become acclimated to the altitude to avoid altitude sickness, which I was surprised to find out can be deadly. While Machu Picchu is only 8,000 feet (2,400 m) above sea level, Cusco sits at 11,200 feet (3,400 m) above sea level.

The train ride to Machu Picchu Town from Cusco takes a little over three hours and passes through the Sacred Valley of the Incas where you will be dazzled by one breathtaking view after another.

4. Exploring in La Cumbrecita, Argentina

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware” Martin Buber

How true this quote so often proves to be. While in Cordoba, Argentina we decided to take a side trip to a German-inspired hamlet called La Cumbrecita.

A foggy backyard

The day started out foggy but turned out to be sunny and temperate.

Wet dog on the shore of a creek

We spent some time playing fetch with this sweetheart in the Rio del Medio.

Steve standing on a rock in the river

We loved spending time climbing (carefully) on the rocks in the river.

photo of a pond

The reward for hiking down a rocky trail.

We saw people every now and then but were often alone on the trails. It was so peaceful and picturesque. It reminded me of how we would spend hours in parks or on nature trails when we were young. Time spent in nature can make you feel like you don’t have a care in the world.

Find out more about La Cumbrecita and Cordoba in Visiting Cordoba, Argentina’s Second Largest City.

5. Amaru Biopark

Imagine a hiking trail, a zoo, and a conservation organization in one. That is Amaru Biopark.

This park is built on a hillside and houses animals who have been rescued but cannot be returned to the wild. Because of its location, you will get quite a workout as you make your way through the park.

You will see so many beautiful animals, including African lions, which really made me scratch my head.

Female African lion

I would have loved to hear these animal’s stories, but I didn’t see any programs like that when we were there.

Squirrel monkey

Squirrel monkeys roam free in the park.

A blue-headed parrot

The aviary lets you get up close to many beautiful birds.

If you go, don’t make the same mistake we did. Our first visit was in the afternoon. We were slowly working our way around and thoroughly enjoying the animals when we looked at the map and realized that in several hours we hadn’t even reached the halfway point.

We backtracked so we could get out of the park before dark and returned earlier on another day so we could enjoy all it had to offer.

Overview of Cuenca

You can get some amazing views of the city from the entrance to the park.

This is highly recommended if you visit Cuenca.

6. Visiting District 13 in Medellin

District 13 (Comuna 13 in Spanish) is a poor neighborhood in the foothills of the Andes that less than 20 years ago was the most dangerous neighborhood in one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Many people associate the violence in Medellin with Pablo Escobar’s drug empire, but guerrilla and paramilitary groups were also causing problems.

In 2002 the government initiative called Operation Orion freed the district from the scourge.

While it is still poor, it is now a popular tourist stop due to an abundance of street art like this colorful lizard:

Colorful mural of a lizard

There are many small, tourist oriented businesses and young people form dance troupes to earn cash.

A dance troupe and tourists

A series of escalators carry people up the mountainside. At every step, you are greeted with smiles and warm hellos.

At first, Steve was a little apprehensive because of the area’s past reputation. He kept his camera in its case for a while. Then he slowly started taking pictures but would quickly put the camera away after each picture.

At one point I turned around to look for him and he was surrounded by several children and was sharing his pictures with some local children.

Steve and kids looking at his camera

Seeing the positive changes to this once forsaken neighborhood impacted me in a way that very few of our travel experiences have.

Be sure to check out our post 10 Things to Love About Medellin, Colombia.

7. Sand Surfing in Huacachina

On our way to Machu Picchu we stopped at a tiny oasis town called Huacachina. It is basically a small lake surrounded by huge sand dunes.

There are two things to do in Huacachina; party and sand surf. Our party days are behind us, but we were excited to give sand surfing a try.

Sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

The lower dune where some people walk up and surf down.

Dune buggies on sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

Dune buggies take people to the higher dunes.

One method is to ride a board that is similar to a snowboard down the dune. We novices chose the easier method, which is to lay on your stomach on a board and fly down the dune head first.

But before you can do any of that you need to get to the top of the dune on a twelve-person dune buggy. It is guaranteed to be an exciting ride.

Both Steve and I figured it would be relatively safe to sand surf since we were on sand. Unfortunately, Steve found what might have been the only rock in the dunes and got a six-inch cut on his arm.

8. Visiting Santa Cruz Cemetery Manga

This memory is not a typical travel memory. We love to explore cemeteries for the history and art. Early in our travels, we went to Montmartre Cemetery in Paris and it was so compelling that it ruined us for other cemeteries.

That doesn’t mean we’ve stopped visiting them, but we haven’t found another one that comes close to Montmartre.

So we approached this visit as something to do. What a shock. This cemetery is in bad repair and you can see below:

Cemetery crypt with black tarp

As we continued exploring we were shocked to see open crypts with either cloth bags or exposed bones. Perhaps the saddest and most bizarre sight was a tomb with a skeleton lying on top.

Tomb with skeleton on top

Even with the disrepair, there was beauty to be found.

Flowers on a tombstone

Ant Stories

Many years ago I read about a family with young children who visited the Grand Canyon. The mother was a little dismayed when they returned home and all the kids could talk about were the ants they had seen in the hotel parking lot.

Thinking about this I realized that it is sometimes the little things, things that you can’t anticipate and could happen anywhere, that stay foremost in our minds after a trip.

I have started to refer to these as “ant stories” and here are two of my favorites from 2019:

9. Come In and See My Cat

One day Steve and I went to the neighborhood of Getsemani in Cartegena, Colombia. This neighborhood was once plagued with drugs, prostitution, and violence. It is now a safe, authentic neighborhood that attracts many tourists, often looking for street art.

Mural of two colombian women in traditional dress

Mural of a woman’s face

While I was taking these pictures a local man heard Steve admiring a cat outside his door, and invited him in to meet his cat (below).

Cat sitting on a chair

10. Maybe Later

In several touristy areas, we have been annoyed by people who stand in front of restaurants and try to get you to go inside. They are referred to as bringers.

Even when you say “no, gracias” or indicate that you just ate they won’t leave you alone.

It took a while but we finally discovered the magic words that make them happy and gives us some peace.

While walking through Machu Picchu Town we were being bothered as usual. When we said no to one bringer he said: “maybe later”.  We replied, “maybe later”. He broke into a huge smile.

We looked at each other with glee. We had found the magic words. We would never be driven crazy by bringers again!

That’s Not All Folks!

I hope you enjoyed this look back at our ten months in Latin America. These memories and many others have enriched our lives beyond our expectations.

While the memories are priceless, they did come at a cost. You can find out what we spent in Wind and Whim’s 2019 Travel Costs – Latin America.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image: llama at Machu Picchu

Hospitalized in Bulgaria: A Wind and Whim Travel Story

In January of 2020, Steve broke his pelvis while skiing and had to be hospitalized in Bulgaria. It was a painful, frustrating, disappointing, and eye-opening experience.

Our Take On Bulgaria

Before I get into the details I must say this:

Bansko was the fifth city or town we have visited in Bulgaria. In 2018 we enjoyed the capital of Sofia, the second-largest city, Plovdiv, and the smaller towns of Byala and Varna.

All of our experiences in Bulgaria until Steve’s hospitalization have been positive. The people are warm and welcoming, the accommodations and restaurants are clean, and the food is delicious. Many people speak English which we never expect but always appreciate.

That is why our experience in the hospital was a shock.

One of the Bansko ski chalets
The beautiful scene as we headed off to ski.

The Doctor At The Base of The Mountain

As Steve and I were waiting in line to get on the gondola to go up the mountain I noticed a door at the end of a hall. The sign on it said Doctor.

Little did I know that just a few hours later I would be walking through that door to see if Steve was in there after we got separated while skiing and I couldn’t find him anywhere else.

He was lying on the examination table after having x-rays. We were told he had fractured his pelvis.

We were very happy with the care here. The doctor and staff spoke English and explained everything that was going on. They took three x-rays for a cost of $118 USD. Everything else up to this point was covered by the mountain insurance we had as part of our ski rental package.

Given the professionalism of this office, we didn’t balk when the doctor suggested Steve be transported to the hospital in the next town, which is Razlog.

Things Take a Downward Turn

Razlog is a town of 13,000 people about 4 miles (6.2 km) from Bansko. Bankso’s population is 8,600.

When Steve arrived at the hospital he was taken to the emergency department. The area was very run down with tiles missing from the ceiling, holes in the sheets, and what looked like a piece of linoleum laid across the foot of each bed.

It took quite a while for the doctor to be located and for Steve to be registered.

Sunset over the mountains in Razlog, Bulgaria
The view outside the hospital was much better than inside.

He had been put on a stretcher board to keep his hips immobilized while being transported. He had to lie on this board for several hours after he arrived at the hospital before he was put in a bed. All this time he did not receive any pain medication.

In addition, he was slipping to one side badly enough that I feared he would fall so I stood alongside the stretcher pressing into his side to keep him from falling. No one seemed to care that he was incredibly uncomfortable.

When it finally came time for Steve to be put in a bed there were only two men to do it. It ended up being quite painful for him as he was basically dropped onto the bed.

Things Aren’t Much Better Here

Luckily the floor Steve was transported to from the emergency department was in better shape, though far from what we expect in a hospital.

Even though many people we met in Bansko spoke English, most of the hospital staff did not. Fortunately, one of the doctors treating Steve did.

The only time we were able to get information about Steve’s condition was the few minutes every morning when the doctors came in. The nursing staff was not the least bit helpful and seemed impatient when we stopped them and used Google Translate to ask questions.

This was particularly frustrating because they were not very busy. There were only a few patients on the floor and often when I went looking for help several nurses would be eating, chatting, and watching TV in the break room. Yet they never made any effort to do more than the basics.

I was shocked that patients in the hospital were kept in their own clothes. Unless they change their clothes themselves or have a family member help they are left in the same clothes day after day.

Patients and their families were also on their own for basic care like washing, brushing teeth, and tending to more personal needs.

I fear for anyone who should find himself in this hospital without someone to help him.

I realized that the only way to get the nurses on our side was to kill them with kindness. It worked with some of them but not all.

Lie Still and Carry a Big Stick

I walked into Steve’s room on his second day there and he proudly showed me his newest possession. A long piece of PVC pipe.

Unlike U.S. hospitals where the patient is tethered to multiple machines, the only thing Steve had was an I.V. He was lying in bed the first night watching the fluid in the I.V. bag getting too close to the end. He wanted to alert a nurse, but the call button was on the wall a few feet away from his bed. Fearing an air bubble entering his bloodstream, he threw the I.V. bag to the floor and used the stand to hit the call button.

After this, he got a pole so he could reach the button. You can see it in the first photo. That pole came in handy for many things. I am still amazed that someone was able to get the pole for him.

Appalling Hygiene

Most shocking to us was the lack of hygiene. Steve was in a room with three beds, but until the last few days, he was the only patient. The room didn’t have its own bathroom, but it did have a sink. However, there wasn’t any soap or towels so I brought some from home.

There were three restrooms on the floor. The women’s room did not have toilet paper or soap. The second one was not marked male or female and surprisingly it had soap. But it was still BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper). I didn’t check the men’s room.

Then there was the food. Breakfast consisted of two slices of bread with a large blob of butter but nothing to spread the butter with. It sometimes came with a hard-boiled egg or some cheese.

A plate with a slice of bread, a pat of butter, and a hard-boiled egg.
Breakfast time.

Lunch was soup and bread, but no spoon to eat the soup with. And even if he had a spoon Steve would not have been able to eat it since he was lying flat and could not sit up.

Even worse than the lack of utensils or care about being able to eat was the fact that the bread that came with the soup was not on a plate, it was carried in by hand and set on the bedside table.

Dinner was, you guessed it, more bread, this time with cheese, both wrapped in a plastic bag.

At one point Steve watched a nurse drop a piece of his bread on the floor and return it to the table

Needless to say, he did not eat the food they provided. What little he ate during his stay was all brought from home.

There’s Always Something Positive

While dealing with the hospital situation was unpleasant, there were good things as a result.

Children performing a Kukeri ceremony in Razlog, Bulgaria
I happened upon this Kukeri festival on my way back to the hospital.

While in the hospital I met a lovely young woman named Aleksandra from Razlog who had recently had surgery. She is a university student who wishes to visit the U.S. someday. We will stay in touch through Facebook.

I also got to meet Anna and her family at Succuk Burger House and Cafe in Bansko where I enjoyed the cheeseburgers and fries way too much. They were so gracious in helping me with taxis and even arranging a ride to the hospital one day. If you are ever in Bansko make sure to visit Succuk Burger House and Cafe and meet these wonderful people.

Our luck with people continued once we settled into our new apartment. I struck up a conversation with Dimitar at breakfast one morning and it turns out he is a physiotherapist. He has already offered several helpful suggestions.

For the life of me, I don’t understand why the hospital personnel are lacking in the friendliness and hospitality the most everyone else around here has in abundance.

A Goodbye Argument

Release day finally arrived. We knew Steve would be transferred by ambulance to the apartment where he would be recuperating. We requested four people to help because he is a large man and we didn’t want a repeat of the fiasco that occurred when he was transferred into the bed.

Around lunchtime, two men arrived with a stretcher. We were surprised that they did not have the stretcher board to keep his hips immobilized while they lifted him. We really don’t know how they intended to move him from the bed to the stretcher without causing pain or aggravating his injury.

We used Google Translate to let the paramedics know that we were expecting four people and we wanted Steve on a stretcher board. This request led to a ten-minute discussion with four paramedics and two nurses all talking at once.

After getting everyone to quiet down we said Steve was not leaving unless he was on a board. They finally brought a board in and we were on our way.

Thankfully the ride was only about eight minutes long. Not only was Steve not strapped to the stretcher, but the stretcher was also not locked down in the ambulance.

You Get What You Pay For

You know the old saying “you get what you pay for” meaning if something is inexpensive you can’t expect much. This has not been true for anything we bought in Bulgaria except for the hospital care.

We had no frame of reference as to what a nine-day stay would cost. I was pleasantly surprised when I paid the bill. It included the ambulance ride to the hospital, nine days of “care” including X-rays, two ultrasounds, and medications and the ambulance ride home from the hospital. The cost for all of this was just under $2,000 USD!

We do not carry a medical travel policy because in most cases medical care outside of the U.S. is very affordable by our standards. We do however have evacuation insurance through Medjet to get us back to the U.S. in case of a serious accident or injury.

We didn’t expect much when we submitted a claim to our U.S. medical insurance company since our treatment was out-of-network. We were delighted to receive a check from them for $1,800 USD, leaving our out-of-pocket hospital and doctor costs at $300.

What Could We Have Done Differently?

I have read several accounts of U.S. citizens’ experiences with medical care while traveling abroad. They were all positive, but none of them had taken place in a small town in Bulgaria.

Once we saw the situation at the hospital I asked Steve if he wanted to be transported to Sofia on the assumption that the hospitals in the capital would be superior to this one. He was adamant that he did not want to be moved because he was in so much pain.

Looking back, I wish that I had asked the doctor what the different options were and where he would send one of his family members.

So the only other thing we could have done differently would have been to not ski in this area. I doubt that any warning about the lack of quality medical care would have deterred us. No one expects to get hurt.

Our travels have taken us to some off the beaten path places and will no doubt continue to do so. In order to keep exploring we have to believe that things will work out for the best.

All’s Well That Ends Well

It was a challenge to find a place to stay for four weeks while Steve recuperated. We needed somewhere that would allow him to be brought in on a stretcher and placed in bed. I spent several days looking online, sending emails, and visiting hotels before I found a suitable place two days before he was due to be released.

We ended up at the Redenka Holiday Club about 6 miles (or 10 km) from the center of Bansko.  Luckily they weren’t particularly busy and had some first-floor apartments available.

Our four-week stay includes not only the apartment but also breakfast and dinner every day for about $2,000 USD. There is also a gym, indoor pool with jacuzzi, and a spa. Hopefully, Steve will have a chance to enjoy them like I have been doing.

Indoor pool and spa at the Redenka Holiday Club
The indoor pool and spa at the Redenka Holiday Club, not a bad place to spend four weeks.

As of this writing, Steve is recuperating well. He has been improving every day and has just been able to be upright with crutches for a short period of time. We are thankful that he left the hospital without becoming sick.

His spirits have remained high and he is looking forward to seeing something besides the ceiling.

Happy (and safe) traveling,
Linda

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12 Things Full-Time Travel Has Taught Us

Eighteen months (and counting) of full-time international travel has taught us a few things. I’m happy to say that they are mostly positive. We’ve learned about safety, other cultures and the people in them, and ourselves. Here are the top twelve things full-time travel has taught us.

WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT SAFETY
1. Take Warnings With a Grain of Salt

Woman hiding under a sheet
Don’t be afraid. It isn’t that scary out there. (Photo credit Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash.com)

There will always be people who are quick to tell you how unsafe other countries are. In my experience, these are often people who have never left their own country.

As we were preparing to leave the U.S. and head to Europe, several people pointed out the threat of terrorist attacks. My response was two-fold:

1. Europe may have more terrorist attacks, but they also have fewer mass shootings.

2. The odds of anyone being a victim of either of these situations are incredibly tiny.

Information from the Cato Institute discusses how unlikely it is for someone to die in a terrorist attack. We are talking about odds of 1 in several million. Not even worth thinking about, in my opinion. If you want to worry about something, worry about auto accidents. You are much more likely to die that way.

And if you check out the country information on the U.S. Department of State website, you may walk away feeling that the world is a dangerous place.

Of course, there are countries, cities, and neighborhoods you should avoid. But it really isn’t that scary out there.

In addition to reviewing the Department of State website (with a few grains of salt), we Google the heck out of potential destinations and talk with fellow travelers.

The best protection is your common sense and your “spidey sense.” The biggest danger is probably to ourselves.

If Steve hadn’t been paying attention while we were on a tour bus in Quito, Ecuador, I would very likely not be here writing this. We were on the upper level, and I was facing the back taking photos. I was unaware that we were about to go under a low overpass. We were going fast enough that the impact would have almost certainly killed me.

So my advice is to avoid the dangerous places, enjoy all the others, and for God’s sake, stay seated on the tour bus.

2. Unless They’re About Pickpockets

When you repeatedly hear that you are in the pickpocket capital of the world, take it seriously!

During our first week in Barcelona, the first city we visited on our journey throughout the world, Steve was pickpocketed.

Despite the warnings, Steve was confident that if he kept his wallet in his front pocket, it would be safe.

It happened on a crowded Metro car on a Friday afternoon. First, one woman bumped into him. While she was apologizing, another woman bumped him on the other side. They jumped off the car as the doors were closing, taking his passport, forty Euros, and three bank cards with them.

Fortunately, his passport was found, and the 900 Euros worth of shoes the thieves tried to charge was declined by our credit card company. We only lost 40 Euros in cash and had to cancel and replace some bank cards. And because this happened at the beginning of a month-long stay, it didn’t interrupt our plans.

After this, Steve bought a camera bag that he refers to as his purse and his first-ever money belt. We no longer carry all of our bank cards in the same place. The main one goes in the purse/camera bag, and the other two go in the money belt with the passport.

You can read more about that experience, including our difficulty finding an open police station in Pickpocketed in Barcelona.

3. We Are Going to Look Like Tourists

Two children in a city looking at a phone.
Photo credit Tim Gouw on Unsplash.com

You may have read articles about how to stay safe while traveling. One thing many of them tell you is to try not to look like a tourist. I think this is ridiculous advice because you are going to look like a tourist. The way you look, sound, and walk all give clues that you are not a native.

Not only can people peg you for a tourist, but they can do it quickly. I can’t count the number of times Steve and I have walked into a restaurant and been handed a menu in English before we opened our mouths. Store clerks and museum personnel have also spoken to us in English before we had said a word.

So we will continue to walk down unfamiliar streets with our camera ready, taking in all the new sights and desperately looking for street signs because most people aren’t a threat, and it’s what we do.

WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE

Man and woman standing on a porch in Medellin
This woman in Medellin’s District 13 really wanted to be photographed. The man, not so much.

4. Most People Are Nice (If They Aren’t Driving)

Since we started traveling, we have been amazed at how friendly and helpful most people are. Is it because people outside of the U.S are nicer than those who live there? Or is it because we have slowed down and find ourselves in much more need of help than when we lived in the U.S?

I believe it is the latter. A prime example of this is shopping for medicine. In the U.S., we call in our refill and pick it up when it’s ready. We may or may not have some friendly exchange with the pharmacist and staff. In a country where you aren’t fluent with the language and the names of medicines may be different, making sure you get the right stuff becomes quite the process.

Steve and I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. When waiters greet us in restaurants and see that we do not speak the language, they often have a little attitude. Nothing nasty. We just get the feeling that they are thinking, “Oh brother, I have to deal with these foreigners.”

We do our best to be gracious and modest, use the local language as much as possible, and say thank you frequently (also in the local language). Quite often, we leave these restaurants with smiles from staff and sometimes even handshakes and air kisses.

This also happens with other interactions like buying bus tickets. Humility, patience, and gratitude are the keys to receiving great customer service.

5. People in Other Countries Don’t Hate Americans (or America)

Throughout my life, I had heard about how the rest of the world disliked people from the United States and referred to us as Ugly Americans. While preparing for a life of full-time travel, I wondered: would we face animosity overseas?

Even with this uncertainty, I vowed never to hide where I am from. People will have to take me as I am. If they have any preconceived notions, maybe I can help dispel them.

My international travel experiences have led me to believe that the  Ugly American may be dead, or at least on life support. You can read more about that here.

In 2018 and 2019, Steve and I visited thirteen countries in Europe and Latin America. I never felt we were being judged negatively for being from the U.S. In fact, just the opposite. Many people seemed delighted when they heard we were from the U.S. and either shared their wonderful memories of visits there or expressed a desire to visit. That doesn’t mean that some people didn’t have negative feelings, but if they did, they either avoided us or kept their thought to themselves.

And as a side note: I don’t tell people I am American; I tell them I am from the U.S. Why? Because there are 35 countries in the Americas. All these people are “American” too.

WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT OTHER CULTURES
6. There Will Be Unpleasant Things You Have No Control Over

Protesters with a huge sign in Buenos Aires
This was an everyday occurrence when we were in Buenos Aires.

The streets smell of urine (Paris).

Nose picking is more prevalent than you are used to (Europe and South America).

Protests pop up regularly (Buenos Aires).

An apartment that advertises hot water may only have it in the shower (our apartment in the Galapagos Islands).

We all know that travel means sometimes having to deal with unpleasant and inconvenient situations.

Our worst experience during these last two years was being delayed for 16 hours because of a protest. We were on a bus tour in Southern Peru when this happened. Fortunately, we did not have any pressing plans since we were scheduled to spend several days in the next town before heading to Machu Picchu. Many people on our bus were not that lucky since their tighter schedules meant they missed some highly anticipated and costly experiences.

I have shared the details of that experience in Stranded on the Road in Peru.

The best thing you can do is realize that you have no control over these events, although travel insurance and credit card benefits may ease some of the financial pain.

Remember, what doesn’t kill you makes a darn good story.

7. Using A New Language Will Feel Awkward

It’s one thing to sit at home going through your Duolingo or Rosetta Stone lessons. It’s quite another to go out and speak that language to a native speaker.

Some things start to come naturally, like please and thank you. But I often find myself missing a few words to complete a sentence.

One trick is to use an online translator to learn the sentence before you start a transaction. Sometimes you will have to resort to using the online translator as you are completing the transaction. That’s OK too.

We have found everyone to be very patient while communicating with us. If anything, I am the one who tends to get impatient when I say a simple sentence, I am confident I am using the right words and a reasonable approximation of the pronunciation, and I am not being understood. UGH. I have to try very hard to hide my frustration.

8. People In Other Countries Don’t Eat At “Normal” Times

The first city we visited was Barcelona. We arrived on a Sunday morning. After we got settled into our Airbnb, we went looking for a restaurant and grocery store. As we passed place after closed up place, we became concerned that we would not find food. “We’re going to starve to death,” we cried.

We eventually found a small store that was open so we could at least get the basics. That experience led to one of our travel rules: never go to a new city on a Sunday.

It is not uncommon for restaurants in Latin America to close from mid-afternoon until 8 or 9 p.m. when they open for dinner. We found this to be widespread in Cordoba, Argentina. We adapted by eating lunch at the restaurants we were interested in and having a light dinner at home.

When we visited the tiny hamlet of La Cumbrecita in Argentina, we stayed at a hotel that provided dinner. We were not thrilled when we checked in and were told that dinner would be served at 9 p.m.  Even so, we accepted this and were quite amused when at 9 on the dot, a cowbell was rung to let the guests know that dinner was now served.

A cow in a field of grass
Chow time (Photo credit Anshu A. on Unsplash.com)

I have occasionally seen articles written by visitors to the U.S. that have pointed out that portion sizes there are too large. Guess what. Portion sizes have been large everywhere we have visited in Europe and Latin America.

9. Tipping Customs Vary

You get the bill at the first restaurant you’re visiting in a new city. Now, what about the tip?

A quick Google search can tell you if it is customary to tip and how much. You can also gather information about tipping other service providers like taxi drivers.

Beware that in some countries it is common to add the tip or “propina” to the bill. You are free to refuse to pay it but would probably not do that unless the service was truly abysmal.

We ate at one restaurant in Medellin where our waiter disappeared and it took 45 minutes to get our food. We were not happy and would not have paid the propina on the bill, but the manager provided a huge and delicious piece of flan as compensation, so we called it even.

During our travels in Europe and Latin America, we did not eat in any restaurants that would allow us to add the tip to our credit card payment. Therefore it is wise to carry small bills or coins in the local currency.

WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT OURSELVES
10. Mistakes Will Happen

No matter how careful you are, you will make mistakes. I detailed the mistakes we made during our first year of travel in Oops! Did We Do That? 

We have done a much better job during our second year. Our first travel mistake didn’t occur until our ninth month of travel. We had booked a flight from Buenos Aires to Cordoba, Argentina. The cost was US$114 for both of us. I was updating our itinerary when I noticed that our flight didn’t leave Buenos Aires at 9:30 am. It left at 9:30 pm!

Steve and I always check with each other before we book anything to ensure the days and times are correct, yet we both missed this.

We could have kept the flight, but it would have left us with a whole day to fill without anyplace to stay or leave our luggage, and we would have arrived at our Airbnb around midnight.

We decided to change our flight. It was easy and worked out well, but ended up costing an additional US$175.

11. Less Really is More

Woman with a small suitcase
Photo credit @Brandless on Unsplash.com

The most sure-fire way to get control of all your stuff is to sell (almost) everything and adopt a nomadic lifestyle.

That pile of papers on your desk that never seems to get smaller? It will be diminished to almost nothing when you cull it every time you change locations (about once a month for us).

The disorganized closet with items you forgot you own? It is easy to keep track of what you have when it all fits into a suitcase or backpack. The downside is that you will be wearing the same things over and over and over and over……

Tired of housework and yard work? It’s easy to keep things neat and organized when you stay in a small apartment. Total cleaning time: less than one hour. Time spent on yard work: 0 hours because – no yard.

Looking back over how much time, money, and effort went into maintaining a suburban lifestyle, I wish we had downsized decades ago.

Do I miss buying cool clothes and awesome shoes? Yes, but not as much as you might think. And I get to play dress-up every December when we return to the U.S. for several weeks.

12. Adaptability and Flexibility Are Indispensable

No apartment will have everything you are used to, no Airbnb host can anticipate your every need, and stores won’t necessarily carry your favorite brands (or maybe not any brand). You will learn to make do on the road.

In every city we visit, we end up buying something we need to make our lives easier. We have bought wheeled shopping carts, plastic pitchers, and a non-slip shower mat, to name a few. We don’t mind leaving these things behind because they are inexpensive.

CLOSING

These lessons can be summed up quite succinctly:

Most places are safe.

Most people are nice.

You will screw up.

Other people will screw things up for you.

You will discover another side of yourself.

And most importantly, you will cherish all of your experiences!

Happy traveling,
Linda

Feature photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash.com

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10 Things to Love About Medellin, Colombia

Are you looking for a city that will leave you impressed and inspired? Look no further than Medellin, Colombia.

Yes, that Medellin. The city named the most dangerous in the world in 1988 by Time Magazine.

The city that spawned Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel.

The city that remained dangerous even after the death of Escobar in 1993 due to the presence of guerrilla and paramilitary groups.

In 2002 a government military initiative called Operation Orion successfully removed the left-wing rebels. This did not mean that Medellin was trouble-free, but it was a step towards the safe, progressive, cosmopolitan city it is today.

We visited this phoenix of a city in November 2019 and fell in love with it. Maybe you will too.

Here are 10 things to love about Medellin:

1. The Art of Fernando Botero

You have most likely seen some works by Fernando Botero featuring voluminous people and animals. The painter and sculptor was born in Medellin in 1932. Many of his works can be seen in the city.

Painting of dea Pablo Escobar
Pablo Escobar Dead by Fernando Botero

Plaza Botero in the center of the city boasts 23 of his larger-than-life sculptures.

Two large statues in Plaza Botero
Two of the many Botero statues in Plaza Botero.

And if that isn’t enough Botero for you, you can see dozens of his paintings at the Antioquia Museum, which overlooks Plaza Botero.

But the city isn’t done with Botero yet. Head over to nearby Plaza San Antonio to see the Botero Birds.

Bombed Botero bird
The remains of the bombed bird

The first bird was severely damaged in 1995 during a bombing the killed 30 people and injured hundreds. The guerrilla group FARC claimed responsibility saying the bombing was meant to send a message to Botero’s son, who was the Defense Minister.

As the cleanup progressed, the mayor demanded the ruined statue be discarded. The elder Botero heard this and immediately called the mayor. He insisted that the statue remain as a reminder of the bombing and a memorial to the victims. He promised to donate an identical statue.

Intact Botero bird
The second Botero bird

2. The Climate

When a city is referred to as the city of eternal spring you can expect pleasant weather. And that is what you will get.

Medellin is just over 400 miles north of the Equator and 4,900 feet above sea level. Because of this, the daily temperature averages 72.5 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year.

Be warned, Medellin does get a fair number of rainy days. The two rainy seasons are April-May and September–November. During this time, you can expect rain for at least 21 days per month.

But do not despair. The rain tends to be in the form of short showers. We visited in November and had afternoon showers on many days. We simply planned our excursions for the morning and early afternoon and made sure we had our rain jackets with us.

You can thank the rain for a city full of lush and vibrant vegetation. That was a nice change from the parched ground we saw all around us during our previous stay in Cordoba, Argentina.

A colorful cow statue with lush vegetation
Plants are everywhere, sometimes with cows

Budding meteorologists can learn more about Medellin’s climate here.

3. The Scenery

Because Medellin is nestled in the Aburra Valley with the Andes Mountains majestically rising up on both sides, the scenery is never boring. Thousands of homes dot the sides of the mountains.

View of mountains from Medellin
One of the multitude of breathtaking views

I won’t soon forget our morning drive to the airport as we were leaving Medellin. I was still in awe of the captivating views after four weeks.

4. The Activities

Parque Explora – This is an aquarium (the largest freshwater aquarium in South America), a vivarium, a planetarium, and an interactive science museum all in one. We spent hours playing with all the activities and only stopped when we got too hungry to continue. Luckily there are several tasty and economical places to eat right on site.

Man on gyroscope
Steve on a gyroscope. You’re never too old to have fun.

El Castillo – Is it a castle, a home, or a museum? It’s all three.

Photo of the exterior of El Castillo
A view of El Castillo from the garden

El Castillo was built in 1930 in the Medieval Gothic style
for physician Jose Tobon. In 1943 it became the family home for Diego Echavarria Misas, his wife Benedikta (Dita), and their only child Isolda. In 1967 Diego and Dita lost their daughter to Guillain-Barre Syndrome. You can see some of the drawings she did as a child in her bedroom.

The couple faced more misfortune when Diego was kidnapped by Pablo Escobar in 1971. Some accounts claim that the family paid the requested ransom, while others say that Diego had instructed his wife not to pay ransom if he were ever kidnapped. Either way, Diego was killed. Dita decided to return to her native Germany and donated the house to the city of Medellin.

The house is a treasure trove of the family’s belongings, and the gardens are lovely. This is a must-do for anyone who loves beautiful homes and grounds.

Santa Fe Zoo – We had a great day exploring the Santa Fe Zoo. This zoo is not too big, and it’s easy to find your way around. The grounds are full of lush vegetation, and the animal enclosures are in pretty good shape.

The squirrel is an Andean Squirrel. Similar to the Eastern Grey Squirrel but with a distinct reddish tint to its fur.

Andean Squirrel on tree.
The colorful Andean Squirrel

The Scarlett Macaw is also known as the flag macaw in Colombia because its colors are the same as the Colombian flag.

A scarlett macaw
The Flag Macaw or Scarlett Macaw

Peacock on dining patio
You might even have lunch with a peacock

Joaquin Antonio Uribe Botanical Garden – You can find this garden right across the street from Parque Explora. Since we were there in November, there weren’t too many plants blooming, but we did have a pleasant walk along the various paths. Admission is free.

A restaurant called In Situ is located within the garden grounds. The food and service were excellent, and they had the most beautiful menu I have ever seen. It was like a book with a gorgeous photo of one of the dishes on each page. I would recommend this restaurant even if you don’t intend to visit the garden.

5. The Best Walking Tour Ever

It’s hard to imagine a better walking tour than the two we had in Cordoba just a month before. But our tour with Real City Tours was the absolute best one we’ve had so far.

Our guide Edgar told memorable stories and talked openly about the city’s troubled past. He also spoke passionately about the city’s commitment to democratic architecture and the belief that you should give the best to those who need it the most.

We didn’t have a dog accompanying us on this tour as we did in Cordoba. However, we did have several locals stop to talk to our group. One man even ended up in our group picture.

6. District 13⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Imagine walking through what was less than 20 years ago the most dangerous neighborhood in one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Now imagine that this neighborhood is thriving. That is the story of District 13 (locally known as Comuna 13).

This poor neighborhood in the foothills of the Andes is a popular tourist stop due to an abundance of street art.

Street Art in Medellin
One of the many examples of the captivating street art in District 13

Young people form dance troupes to earn cash.

Street dancer
Great local entertainment

A series of escalators carry people up the mountainside. At every step, you are greeted with smiles and warm hellos.

There are many tours to District 13. We opted for a private tour with a taxi driver we had gotten to know.

At first, Steve was a little apprehensive because of the area’s past reputation. It did not take long for us to feel very safe and welcome here.

Man sharing photos with children
Steve sharing his photos with local kids

7. The Metro That Made a Difference

One thing that is credited with advancing Medellin is the metro system. It not only provides much-needed transportation for the city’s 3.7 million inhabitants and 550,000 visitors annually, but it has also changed the lives of the poor who live on the mountainside by cutting hours off their commuting times.

Cable cars that are part of the metro system take riders up the steep mountainside in Districts 1 and 2.

Metro cable cars in Medellin
The view from the cable car station

Unlike many cities, the residents of Medellin respect their metro system, which is clean and graffiti-free.

Even with this system, the roads are jam-packed. Motorcyclists weave their way through traffic with no regard for traffic laws or safety. However, without the Metro and the motorcyclists, I can’t imagine how any traffic would move through the city.

8. A Colorful and Captivating Side Trip

A two-hour bus ride will get you to the town of Guatape, dubbed the most colorful town in the world because all of its buildings are decorated with colorful bas-reliefs called zocalo.

Colorful building in Guatape
A prime example of a Guatape building

There isn’t very much to do in town after you’ve checked out the buildings and perhaps taken a boat tour. But a short drive will get you to El Penol.

El Penol is a 720-foot tall rock surrounded by water and small islands. The view at the bottom of the rock is amazing, but if you climb the 740 steps to the top, you will be rewarded with even more breathtaking views.

View of islands
360 degrees of beauty

The climb isn’t bad. There are markers every 25 steps so you can see your progress.

9. The Food

In both Medellin and Cartegena, which we visited earlier in the year, we found that we enjoyed the food immensely. It didn’t matter if it was traditional or not, it was always tasty, and the ingredients were high quality.

Exceptions to this are patacones and arepas. Patacones are deep-fried squashed plantains, and arepas are patties made from cornmeal.  We did not develop a liking for either of these. The other food that never excited our taste buds was the ubiquitous white cheese that accompanied many meals. I have never tasted such a bland cheese and hope never to again. I don’t like to waste food, but this remained untouched on our plates every time.

That being said, I would be hard-pressed to think of a bad meal we had in Medellin.

 

Bowl of tomato soup with chicken and avocado
The best tomato soup I have ever had

A traditional Colombian lunch
A traditional lunch⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

10. The People

During our 10 months in Latin America, we have been impressed with the friendliness and helpfulness of the residents but the people in Medellin take this to a new level.

Perhaps it is because the city is out of the grips of the terrorists who held it hostage for far too long. Perhaps it is the positive changes including vastly improved transportation and the growth of the city. Perhaps it is pride in being able to share their city with tourists who have deemed it a worthy destination.

Boy dancing in the street
This boy couldn’t wait to share some of his dance moves

Whatever the reason(s), we found that people were not only willing to help, they went out of their way to look out for the tourists. They would not only give you directions, but they would also walk you to where you were headed. If a beggar were bothering you, they would chase him away.

We Hated to Say Good-Bye

We have enjoyed most of the cities we’ve visited, but we were possibly saddest to leave the impressive and welcoming new Medellin. I believe that it was the impact of the changes that have taken place in recent years that made Medellin special to us.

I hope you will consider visiting Medellin and that you will leave with as many fond memories as we did.

Trip Details

Dates: November 11 – December 5, 2020
Days: 28
Total cost for 2: $4,000
Cost per day for 2: $143

Find Out More!

Medellin was our last stop during the ten months we spent in Latin America in 2019. You can learn about some of the other places we visited in Our Top 10 Latin America Travel Experiences.

You can also find out how much these ten months of travel cost in Wind and Whim’s 2019 Travel Costs – Latin America.

Happy traveling,
Linda

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Visiting Cordoba, Argentina’s Second Largest City

October 2019 found us in Cordoba, Argentina’s second-largest city. We had just spent two months in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital and most populous city. It was our favorite Latin American city so far. We wondered how Cordoba would compare.

Cordoba didn’t steal our hearts the way Buenos Aires did. Even so, we had some good experiences and an awesome side trip to two little Alpine inspired villages. More on that later.

Our Favorite Thing in Cordoba

One of the coolest places in the city is the Sacred Heart Church of the Capuchin Fathers (pictured above at dusk).

We visited La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona last year and often feel that it ruined us for other churches. However, the Capuchino Church delighted us for hours. In addition to the beautiful pastel colors and a multitude of statues, there are gargoyles and numerous animals.

Detail of Capuchin Church
Animals flanking their patron saint, Francis of Assisi

Cat and mouse detail on the Iglesias de los Capuchinos
The delights never end

Tours of the church including the tower are available in Spanish and English. I highly recommend that you take one for a chance to see more of this beautiful church up close.

When we first arrived in Cordoba and I heard the name Capuchin Church I thought it had something to do with monkeys. This fountain right across the street definitely had something to do with that. It turns out that the Capuchins are an order of friars that are an offshoot of the Franciscans.

fountain with monkeys
Perhaps you can understand my confusion

Here is a cool video of the church by Lucas Nobile.

For more information about the Capuchin Church see this article by Albom Adventures.

Walking Tours and Bus Tour

When we arrive in a new city we like to take a hop-on-hop-off bus tour to get the lay of the land. We also like to take a free walking tour to learn some basic history and hopefully hear some good stories. Cordoba was no different.

What was different was the extremes in the quality of the tours. We took two walking tours with La Docta Tours. These were the best free tours we have ever had.  The guides were very knowledgeable and spoke excellent English.

If you are not familiar with the concept of a free tour, you take the tour and pay what you think it was worth at the end. Not really free, but they are usually very well done.

photo of the Cathedral in Cordoba
You will see the Cathedral in Plaza San Martin on the morning tour.

Ferris wheel
You will see the Rueda Eiffel, a defunct ferris wheel many believe was designed by Gustavo Eiffel, on the afternoon tour

The afternoon tour had a little something extra.  A dog named Negro joined us. According to our guide, he roams the city during the day and returns to his home each night. He is well known throughout Cordoba and loves strolling along with the afternoon tour. He even stayed with Steve and me while we ate dinner.

A dog named Negro
Negro, the tour-loving dog

As good as the walking tour was, that’s how bad the hop-on-hop-off tour was. As usual, we were given earbuds so we could tune into the English version of the tour. However, the bus played the Spanish version over speakers so it was very hard to hear the explanations coming through the earbuds. Annoying music filled the downtime. We do not recommend this tour.

Sarmiento Park

We had high hopes when we headed to Cordoba’s largest park, Sarmiento Park. They didn’t last long. The park has so much potential but is in disrepair.

Pond and bridge in Sarmiento Park
Sarmiento Park has so much potential

Despite this, the park was busy on the spring-like day we visited. There is a multitude of restaurants in the park for you to choose from.

Our favorite part of the park was the Super Park. This small amusement park was full of mostly happy kids and tired parents the day we visited. Well worth a visit of the young or the young at heart.

Two boys on bumper cars, one is crying
Someone didn’t like the bumper cars

What Are Those?

Not far from Sarmiento Park you will find a park full of large, colorful rings. This is Plaza del Bicentenario. It celebrates the country’s 200 year anniversary which occurred in 2010.

There are 201 rings in the park, one for each year and one that represents the future. Each ring has a date and an engraving of a notable event from that year.

Colorful rings in a park
Just some of the 201 rings in Bicentennial Park

This is certainly an eye-catching park. You can have fun photographing the rings from different angles.

Linda standing in a large ring
A beautiful day to play in the bicentennial rings

Some Really Good Eats

Be warned: the vast majority of restaurants close for several hours in the late afternoon and don’t open for dinner until 8 or 9 p.m. Since we like to eat dinner around 6 o’clock we visited several restaurants for lunch instead.

Our three favorites were:

The Pastrami Bar – This casual restaurant is located in the bohemian neighborhood of Guemes. It has a charming outdoor area and tasty down to earth food including, surprise, surprise, a wide variety of pastrami sandwiches.

There is a chance you won’t be able to eat at this restaurant in the near future. According to our waitress, they will be closing because of the high cost of rent.

Sandwich and chicken wings
Steve’s pastrami sandwich and my wings; health food not

The reason I’m including it here is to share this with you:

Calico cat
Phoebe, the resident cat at the Pastrami Bar

This lovable cat lives at the restaurant. Don’t worry, if they close she has a home to go to. And maybe they will find a way to stay open.

Sibaris – this classy place in the Hotel Windsor is not far from Plaza San Martin, the main square.

Not only was the food amazing, but you are served a small taste of an appetizer and one of dessert free with your meal.

Steak and vegetables
Tenderloin with roasted vegetables; I wish there was a way to put taste in a blog.

Flan
Flan with dulce de leche and whipped cream

El Celta – this restaurant specializes in fish and seafood but has plenty of other choices.  It is quite a few blocks north of Plaza San Martin, but within walking distance, if you love traveling on foot as we do.

Seafood and potato platter
This seafood platter with roasted potatoes for two was more than enough

We enjoyed these restaurants so much we visited each of them twice. In each case, the staff was wonderfully welcoming and often spoke English.

One Of Our Best Side Trips Ever

During our stay in Cordoba, we decided to visit the Calamuchita Valley, particularly the alpine-inspired villages of La Cumbrecita and Villa General Belgrano.

Our experiences in these two villages were quite different from each other, but both were wonderful.

La Cumbrecita is very small. Its population is less than 200 people! It is also a pedestrian town. Visitors are not allowed to drive in the town. Not to worry though. It is small enough to walk everywhere.

Four people on horseback
Quaintness overload

Knowing how small it was we only planned to stay for two nights which gave us one full day in town. We spent that entire day exploring the countryside. There are numerous paths just minutes from the center of town that will lead you to memorable views.

photo of a pond
One of the many rewards of our hike

Steve and I with a horse in the background
An impromptu photo, you can’t tell here but Steve was nervous about the horse because he had been bitten in the past

You need to take two buses to get to La Cumbrecita. The first stops in Villa General Belgrano. The total travel time is about three hours plus time spent between buses at the Villa General Belgrano station.

We traveled with Buses LEP and Pajaro  Blanco. The buses were very clean and comfortable.

Once you arrive at La Cumbrecita you will be only a few minutes’ walk from the center of town. Our hotel, Hotel Las Cascadas, was just a four-minute walk from the bus station. Reservations at this hotel include half board.  The food was very good and we were called to dinner by the ringing of a cowbell.

From Nature to Luxury

The second part of our side trip was spent at the Chamonix Posada and Spa in Villa General Belgrano. Our room was spacious and clean. The staff was very friendly and helpful. The restaurant serves three meals a day with a wide variety of very good food.

Since it was too cold to use the outdoor pool I spent many hours relaxing in the indoor pool. I usually avoid indoor pools because I find them to be dismal and cold. The indoor pool at Chamonix was warm and the room was full of light.

Me under waterfall in indoor pool
I loved the indoor pool at Chamonix Posada and Spa

This is also a good place to indulge in spa treatments. They are much less expensive than in the U.S.  An hour-long massage is $20 U.S.

Our Take On Cordoba

Cordoba is a compact and very walkable city. Like all the places we have visited in Latin America, the locals are friendly and helpful.

Young men in a pickup truck celebrating
Recent graduates celebrating; a common scene on the streets

We spent four weeks in Cordoba minus five days for our side trip. Two weeks would have been enough since there is a limited amount for tourists to do.

However, if we hadn’t visited Cordoba we would have never experienced La Cumbrecita. In fact, we wouldn’t even know it exists.

All in all, we are glad we made Cordoba a stop on our itinerary.

Trip Details

Dates: October 10 – November 11, 2019
Days: 28
Total cost for 2: $3,100
Cost per day for 2: $111

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

Stranded on the Road in Peru: A Wind and Whim Travel Story

As we left the breathtaking oasis of Huacachina, Peru to head to Arequipa, we had no idea that we would be stranded on the road for 16 hours.

Large sand dunes
From this…

A street in La Joya, Peru on the Pan American Highway.
to this.

Are We There Yet?

Our tour bus was making good time through southern Peru on our sixteen and a half hour overnight trip from Huacachina to Arequipa. The bus stopped at 5:30 am and we were all awakened. We thought we were at our destination. We soon found out that we were still one hour away, and that most likely that hour would become many.

What The Heck Is Going On?

The reason for the delay was a strike by the residents of La Joya and other towns in the Tambo Valley in southern Peru. The residents were protesting the granting of a construction permit by the Peruvian government to the Southern Copper Corporation for their proposed Tia Maria copper mine. The protesters are concerned about the mines effects on the environment and the agriculture of the area. You can read more about the issues here.

A street with remnants of burning tires.
Remnants of burning tires on the Pan American Highway.

Unfortunately, they decided the best way to make their point was to block roads into and out of towns along the Pan-American Highway. Large rocks and small boulders were strewn across the roads for many miles. Hundreds upon hundreds of protesters lined the roads, making the option to remove the obstacles unwise.

A long line of trucks standing still on the Pan American Highway.
And we wait. At least we had nice weather.

We heard that the protests could last for up to 72 hours and that most of the local businesses were remaining closed in support of the protesters. We wondered where we would get food and water.

We Have Priorities People!

But there was a bigger problem. There was a restroom on our luxurious double-decker bus, but it was only to be used for urine. Where would we go if Mother Nature had other ideas? We looked around. There was a sign that said “bano”. This is Spanish for what we needed most. Several of us walked over and encountered a young woman who indicated that she would open up for us. Part of her business was providing a public restroom for 1 peso (about 30 cents U.S.). The other part was a restaurant. Eww. Especially since there wasn’t a sink between the restaurant and the toilet.

This is where it gets interesting. She opened the half-sized door that is so common in Latin America and led us in. The dark, narrow hallway led to a very primitive toilet. A young woman ahead of me was the first to enter and quickly announced that it was just a “hole in the ground”. Actually, it was more than that but very little more. There was no seat and or flushing mechanism. Once you were finished you had to get a bucket of water from a huge barrel and hopefully flush what you had produced.

That poor woman used three buckets of water then gave up, apologizing to her friend who was next in line. By the time it was my turn I learned a valuable skill. You must thrust the water into the toilet if you hope to force anything down. I am happy to report that I perfected my technique that day.

And Now We Wait

The rest of the day was not nearly as eventful as our early morning experience. We read and dozed on the bus, walked the streets aimlessly, and kept our ears open for news, any news. Our tour company arranged for a large restaurant in town to provide lunch for all of us. This was no mean feat since virtually every business remained closed throughout the day.

On The Road Again

After fourteen frustrating hours, the roads were clear enough for trucks and buses to pass. However, they had to go slowly to avoid the remaining rocks and small boulders still left in the road. We arrived in Arequipa sixteen hours behind schedule. Most importantly we never felt like we were in danger and we did eventually arrive at our destination.

An idle tour bus
Our very dirty bus

When you set out on the road you know things like this will happen. If you are fortunate they will happen infrequently and will not prove to be dangerous or costly.

We are very fortunate that our travel plans allow a lot of flexibility. Many of the people on the bus had planned to ride straight through to Cusco, an additional twelve-hour drive, to start their Machu Picchu adventures. Because of the delay, many of them missed out on pre-planned and often quite expensive activities.

It appears as if the protests had the desired effect. Here is an article about the status of the mine permit as of July 25, 2019.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image by Ronaldo Oliveira on Unsplash.com

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Is a Land-Based Galapagos Trip Right For You?

Have you dreamed of visiting the Galápagos Islands? I certainly did. It was right at the top of my bucket list. Then in the spring of 2019, Steve and I spent four weeks as land-based visitors to these famed islands. This was one of our most anticipated trips and our most expensive to date. In spite of having many wonderful adventures, it did not live up to our expectations. We found ourselves counting the days until we flew to Quito.

Here I will discuss a few of our wonderful experiences and illustrate what life is like in the largest town, Puerto Ayora. Hopefully, it will help you in deciding if a land-based Galapagos trip is right for you.

A Little Background

Do you know that there are two ways to visit the Galapagos, ship-based and land-based? Ship-based tourism is tightly controlled by the government and is currently steady at about 73,000 visitors per year.

Land-based tourism is not controlled and has grown to over 200,000 visitors in 2018.

Since Galapagos cruises are notoriously expensive, and we would be there for four weeks, we chose to be land-based.

I had never given any thought to the fact that there are towns in the Galapagos, let alone seen a picture of one. We arrived in Puerto Ayora with no idea of what to expect.

Land-based Activities

From our home base in Puerto Ayora, we were able to enjoy many of the wonders the islands have to offer. These are just a few of our memorable experiences:

Walking down secluded paths flanked by large lava rocks and cacti to arrive at nearly deserted postcard-perfect beaches alive with marine iguanas and sea lions.

The author and a sea lion on San Cristobal Island
I had hoped to swim with the sea lions but had to settle for a beachfront visit.

Riding electric scooters to El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve to see some Galapagos tortoises. The coolest thing about them is that each one has a unique look on his wrinkled old tortoise face.

A Galapagos Tortoise with grass in his mouth
One of the residents of the tortoise reserve

Seeing blue-footed boobies perched on a cliff and later sharing the waters of the Pacific Ocean with them. Their numbers had been declining but are now on the rise. This article from the Galapagos Conservancy, Inc. explains the reasons.

Watching the pelicans and frigate birds looking for handouts at the fish market. The pelicans waited patiently for scraps. The birds took every opportunity to dive down and peck at unattended fish.

A pelican eating a fish
A pelican and his reward

Heading into the highlands (again by electric scooter) to discover a privately owned lava tunnel. We explored the one-kilometer long tunnel, climbing over piles of rocks that had fallen from the walls and ceiling.

We then headed further down the road to a corny little family-owned attraction that featured an edge of the world swing, a petting zoo, and a working sugar cane press powered by a donkey. I don’t remember the name of this place and I haven’t had any luck finding it on the internet. If you are interested in visiting it while on Santa Cruz I’m sure some local folks could steer you in the right direction.

Steve with a tropical drink
Steve enjoying a fresh sugar cane drink

The Positive Side of Puerto Ayora

The people were very friendly and accommodating. As long as you had a smile on your face you were greeted with numerous “buenos dias”, “holas”, and even a few “hellos” while walking down the street.

The town is small enough that you can walk anywhere. If you don’t want to walk a taxi costs only $1.50 anywhere in town.

Laundry services called lavanderias will wash, dry, and fold your clothes for peanuts. Seriously, we spent $8 a week to have clothing for the two of us laundered. This and the taxis are about the only bargains you’ll find.

There is a wonderful bike path that travels the main road out of town to the highlands town of Santa Rosa, 13 miles (21 km) away. This is where the tortoise reserve is.

A horse walking near the road
We met this free-range horse on the bike path

The hostels and hotels all appeared to be well built, clean, and relatively comfortable, at least from the outside. And of course, if you’re willing to pay the price, you can stay at five-star hotels like the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel for more than $400 per night or the Hotel Angermeyer Waterfront Inn for $300 per night.

The Other Side of Puerto Ayora

Despite the high price tag associated with a Galapagos trip, this is a poor area. Buildings alternate from being well kept to ramshackle, often on the same street.

A front porch with plants
A well-kept apartment building at the end of our street

Piles of building materials in front of an unfinished building
A construction supply depot at the other end of our street

Sidewalks and street are dangerously uneven. It is not unusual to have to avoid holes a few feet deep.

A brick sidewalk with a deep hole in the middle
A sidewalk on our street – seriously!

Air conditioning is a luxury. We were lucky to have it in our bedroom. Not even stores, restaurants, or gyms are air-conditioned.

A gym in Puerto Ayora
Bodywell gym. $3 per visit, no air conditioning

Litter is everywhere. The beaches and natural sights we visited were pristine but the town was not.

A dilapidated boat under trees
Litter big

Two children walking by a litter-strewn lot
and litter small

The word that kept coming to our mind was squalor. We realize this comes from our experiences as middle-class Americans and in the context of Puerto Ayora, this is normal. None the less, it was a sharp contrast to the image we had of the Galapagos.

Another thing that surprised us was the strong smell of car exhaust on the main streets. Even though traffic is light compared to most towns, there is a constant parade of white pickup trucks, the local taxis, circling the town. Most of the time 80% of them are empty. Great if you need a taxi, not so great for the environment.

Tourism’s Impact

An Internet search will lead you to many articles outlining the pluses (financial) and the minuses (environmental impact) in the growth of land-based tourism. The area, like many, is struggling to find the sweet spot of tourism.

In 2017 Fodors published this article telling people not to go to the Galapagos in 2018. I am not sure if seeing this article or others like it would have led us to make different plans, but I would like to think it would have.

This New York Times article from June of 2018 asks if land-based tourism is threatening the islands.

My advice is to do what we failed to do. Find out as much as you can about the islands and the type of trip you plan to take beforehand. We fell for the romantic idea of the islands but got a lot the unromantic reality.

In Hindsight

This trip taught us something about ourselves. We are city folks who love being where there is action, art, parks, and all the services we have grown accustomed to. A day trip here and there to a wild area satisfies our nature yearnings. Toward the end of our trip, we had run out of things to do and were actually counting the days until we headed back to the mainland.

I am glad we got to visit one of the places that has called to me for so long. However, if we had been more aware of the impact of land tourism and what life is like in the towns we either would not have gone or would have taken a much shorter trip.

Trip Detials

Dates: April 25 – May 23, 2019
Days: 28
Total cost for 2: $5,500
Cost per day for 2: $196

Happy traveling,
Linda

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