Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Euro 2014 - Reflections on the Long Stay

Wife and I are back.  We were gone for almost 6 weeks which is far and away the longest time I’ve ever been out of the country our ever out of my home.

Going back was not the most pleasant air travel experience.  It started with a cluster-F experience at Schipol (Amsterdam) airport where we were sent to the wrong terminal by the airline for the business lounge, ended up going through passport control and security twice, wandered in this huge circle for almost 40 minutes until we arrived back where we started.  Our experience with Icelandair where the system of changing planes in Reykjavik is just nuts plus business class seats that really aren’t better than economy plus on United have taken this off the list as an option going forward.  We did like arriving in Denver and spending the night rather than going on to ABQ.  That last 7 hours of travel (with changing planes, getting home, unpacking) throws the whole thing into the 20+ hour category which is just way too hard on us.

This trip had a focus.  That focus was to be a test of Wife and my desire to spend significantly more time outside of the US.  In particular, I wanted test a desire I had to not just do the kind of tourist travel we have always done, but go to a place and quasi live there, get to know the area, be able to stay connected with work, and not feel the need to go, go, go.  I look back to the time I studied in France and have always felt the experience of living somewhere is much different than being a tourist.  But that was a long time ago.  I’m not that person and my life is much, much different now.  Hence the test.  Determine if your feelings and assumptions are still valid before making any major commitments.

In the sense that for any test to be a success, you have to get a certain amount usable data back for analysis, this trip was certainly a success though certainly the data pointed to a need for further analysis and testing.  Now I know you’re probably saying, “Hey de-I, isn’t this a ruse so you can justify further travel!” To which I say, “I don’t need anything to justify further travel. Here are my preliminary findings some of which represent some of Wife and my combined discussions and some of which are strictly my own.  First.

Did We Enjoy Being Away For So Long And Do We Want To Do It More?

Yes.  We had no problem filling our days in fact, as I’ll relate below, the problem was the opposite.  And the three weeks in one place in Brittany was great in that it allowed us to get to know the area.  By the end of the three weeks we had gotten to understand “oh this is the market we should go to,” and “We really like going out to eat here for this,” and “if we have someone come visit we should take them here,’ types of things.  You don’t get that if you just jump in somewhere for a week. 

However, there were many things that we found out that would need to change for us to do more of this.  We can lump these under two major heading – Things we need to account for given our particular situation and issues associated with truly trying to live somewhere else.

Accounting For The Reality Of Our Situation

I think the overriding thing we discovered in being away for such a long time is that there are things we need as people who are older and have various physical issues.  As we look forward most of these issues are going to only get worse, so we need to include the resolution to them in our planning.  That list includes:

A need for creature comfort - This is both for physical and aesthetic reasons.  On the physical side, Wife and I both have lots of joint issues.  Without a certain level of adequate seating and sleeping quality, the wear and tear on the body becomes really apparent.  If you’re simply on a one or two week vacation, you can probably deal with it.  When you’re going for 6 weeks or more, it really tells.  We’re beyond the point of travel for travel’s sake. To enjoy our time traveling means we need to have a level of physical comfort where we are not in pain.  This is something we will have to account for in the future.

A need for beauty in our daily surroundings - Wife and I are people who are home bodies and by that I don’t mean we need to be home all the time (or we wouldn’t travel) but that we get great pleasure from our home itself.  There’s a reason we’ve put so much into our own house changing it so that its aesthetics give joy to us on a daily basis.  The house we had in Brittany was a perfectly adequate house if you we’re just doing a week of vacation, but it did not have either the interior, grounds, comfort, or view that really made it a pleasure to just be in like in contrast our place in Spain had.  There were economic reasons for our choice but we will need to consider changing that trade off.

Auto issues – At most of the places we’ve traveled outside the US, an automatic transmission is the exception and you usually have to pay more for it.  Unfortunately Wife is not comfortable with a standard.  The result was I did all the driving. That ended up being way too much wear and tear on me and it prevented any situation where Wife could go off on her own and do things while I did things myself at home.  In the future, the expense of having an automatic transmission vehicle is something we will just have to absorb.

Managing the air transportation process – Going to Europe or Asia or South America from Albuquerque is always going to be a long, long process and is very wearing physically.  Business class is nice but even with smart shopping is very expensive.  Our attempt at a deep discounted version left us dissatisfied.  However, as stated above we were happy with our decision to break our trip back into two days and spending the night in Denver.  As time is not the issue that has been in the past, it might make more sense to buy the Economy plus type seating but do the trip in two or three days (depending on just how far we’re going) with hotel stays in between.  The trade-off there is that you do have to do more schlepping to and from airports, dealing with your bags, going through security and all which is wearing in and of itself.  We’ll have to give that a try.

Issues Associated With Truly Trying To Live Somewhere Else

The first thing I need to state is if the purpose of our trip was test what it was like to be living in another place, we failed from the first because we really didn’t just stay and live in Brittany, we ended up having a three week typical trip there.  That meant running around and seeing all kinds of things and being the kind of manic travelers we typically are.  This had all kinds of implications such as greater wear and tear on our body, spending more than we had intended, significantly greater fatigue overall, and non-accomplishment of a variety of projects that we had thought we’d have time to work on.  Here is a list of things that we need to consider when we do our next test.

No guests, at least not until you have your pattern down – If you have guests you’re not on your own and you don’t have time to develop a pattern of your own in a new place.  I think the next test has to be just the two of us.  If that works then we can experiment with going somewhere, getting established and then having guests.

Go somewhere we’ve been before – Since it is Wife and my natural tendency to get out and explore, it might be better if we would go somewhere we’ve already been so there is more incentive to stay put and delve deeper into a daily routine.  If we go somewhere completely new, I have doubts that we’d be very content to just sit in one place.

Has to be a home worth not leaving – this relates to need for beauty in daily surroundings that I mentioned above.  This really struck home when we got back and walked into our own home that (in our opinion) is uplifting just being in.

Have to really consider, no try, home exchange – I think there is a real limit to the quality you are going to find in a rental unless you shell out big bucks.  Home exchange is a concept we’ve toyed with but are coming to feel has the best potential to get us the type of living experience we want.  Home exchange not only gives you a place where someone else feels good about their environment (not necessarily the way the owner of a rental property feels) but also provides you with guidance of how to integrate into your local environment easier.

Make a commitment to breaking our travel habits – By this I mean, consciously working on behavior change, on slowing down, on going a more measured pace.  I think, honestly, this will be the hardest thing for us.  Behavior change always is.


So in conclusion, we had a great time.  Baring the physical comfort issues and personal energy issues, we were very pleased and were thinking of all the places we still want to visit.  We definitely want to try the ‘live in a place’ experiment again.  But we also still want to get out and do the more classic travel and see and experience new places.  I think the one hypothesis that we did prove was that Wife and I are travelers and intend to do as much travel as we can physically and fiscally do as we transition into the last stages of our life.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Euro 2014 - Back to the Future-The Last Tango in Amsterdam

So we drove back to where we started doing what we started with, hanging with the #3 clan.  We just chilled for a couple of days before we head home.

Hey wait a minute.  Didn't we see the two of them just 5 weeks ago?  Did they even move all that time?

One new game -making sandwiches out of Play dough.
You can order anything you want but you're going to get peanut butter or spready cheese.  I know.  I tried. 

Another one.  Making dinosaurs from Play dough and the playing with them.

Always the cuddler in chief

3.2 is developing at light speed.
She is really reacting to the outside world now.

3.2 getting it on with Daddy

Thank you Daughter #1 and SiL 2A for your efforts teaching me video, I'm now in the junior talent impresario business :)

We head home tomorrow.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Le Mont-Saint-Michel

Le Mont-Saint-Michel is one of THE spots you're supposed to see in France.  It is a fortified abbey that was build starting in the 11th century and was added to for the next 300 years.  It is in a unique location where for the most part it was surrounded by water.  During the 100 years war during the 14th and 15th centuries, it was besieged by the English for 30 years and never was taken.

Anyway, it is one of THE places you're supposed to see but some how over the 40 plus years that I've been coming to France I never went there...until now.  Wife and I saw it was right on our route back from our Brittany rental back to Amsterdam so we decided to do a stop over.  It was well, well worth the time and every bit deserving of its reputation.  We really lucked out.  It is way before peak season.  There were a number of (mostly Asian) tour groups visiting but we were able to time our touring of the abbey between various groups so we mostly were almost by ourselves.

But first a final shot from Plougrescant

This is the little boulangerie (bakery)/
--> épicerie (small grocery) where I went every morning to get our bread.  The custom of the local bakery seems revived, alive and well in France

And now the main even, LE MONT-SAINT-MICHEL

(Le Mont-Saint-Michel is named after the Archangel Michael, my namesake.  I've always felt that the Archangel and I are kind of buds because of this)





Stairs - Freakin tons of stairs

Camera Sherpa After Carrying The Load Over The Freakin Tons of Stairs

Joy Of Out Of Season Hotels

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Euro 2014 - Close to Home

This episode is where our hero proves that one does not have to drive for hours and hours in order to traverse incredibly narrow roads, get lost with arcane instructions, and yet still find valuable photo opportunities. 

There is so much natural beauty on the Brittany coast and we had barely scratched the surface on what was just around us.  So in light of the fact that we'd miscalculated numerous times and spent many hours driving just to get to the locales we wanted and was very much saddle sore from driving, we made a pact this last week to try and stay close to home. 

I really wish we could have taken some pictures or videos of some of the roads we drive on.  They are so incredibly narrow with building walls right on the road side. hilly, curvy.  You are going down one of these in the middle of nowhere and a bus or a truck comes and you have stop and find a place to off to the side which may mean going in reverse.  The signage is always some what arcane.  We have Wife madly looking at two or three maps, the GPS sometimes working, sometimes not.  It is actually great fun in spite of the stress and truth be known Wife and I actually seek out these types of things.  Something about the adventure of navigation and discovery.  Sometimes you do all this work and you get to the site and it's "You call this a two star vista!!!!".  Other times it is "OK this is wow!"

But First A Word From Our Gastronomer

Fruits de Mer - The Tower of Seafood

This little place with the blue lobster on the wall is a seafood shop that has a small tasting room where you can enjoy a variety of mollusks and crustaceans.

The Plateau de Fruits de Mer is a real 'must have' for those who like such things.  Much like my experience in Concale, it is something that escaped me all these years.  We saw this place when we were with the 3s in Tréguier on Monday so we made a reservation for the next day.

Really excellent quality 
 Le Gouffre

This means the abyss or gulf in French and is the major point of attraction (two stars according to Michelin) in the presqu'Ile de Plougrescant.  Since our time was almost done after our lunch we said we had to find it.

After wandering around we found this
Nice but not the Gouffre

Ah, that's better

I never knew Brittany was big on the list of vacation spots for snakes but evidently so since there are signs specifically for them.

 Real scenes from Gouffre

If It's Wednesday, We Must Be Looking For Pointes

That would be the French word for a point of land that sticks out into the sea where one frequently finds panoramas.  Les Pointes are never on major roads.  They always require wandering into the small roads that you only have if you've bought and very detailed local map.  They are never in your GPS.

We spent a whole bunch of time looking for this place going down the worst of the narrow roads of the day.
It would have been great except for being all overgrown with trees.

We had much better luck later on after lunch at Pointe de Minard
The weather even cleared up for us a bit after being pretty hazy all day

We saw this trail on arriving that would take us down closer to the water
We took a pass on that one

Then we saw this trail that went parallel (in fact our good friend the GR 34) and we followed that for a while

Local Stuff

The town of Tréguier from its harbor

Looking at our local church in Plougrescant when I drive up in the morning for bread

My view of the sea as I drive back with my bread

Salt Butter Caramels

This takes a bit of explanation.  Like so many places there are certain food items that a place is known for.  In New Mexico we have chile.  In Maryland they have crabs.  In Minnesota they have...well I'm not sure what they have but I'm sure Terri will let me know.  In Brittany there are a number of things.  Butter is one.  The butter here is freaking great let me tell you.  And it is always salted which while the norm in the US is totally the exception in France.  And they are known for making these caramels using the salted butter.  Except for the fact that this craft really has mostly died off and what you have is mass produced plonk that is passed off as the real thing.

We did our research and found a little place only open two days during the week that in fact made the real thing in Tréguier.  The first time we went there they were closed for their pre-season cleaning.  But we succeeded on the second time.  There are three people total in this shop.  The guy you see below who makes the candy.  A woman who bags everything.  And a young lady who handles the front and 'all other duties assigned'.  All there are are four ingredients; sugar, corn syrup, butter, cream.  I took these pictures through a glass wall so I apologize for the lack of clarity.
Here he is cutting and measuring butter

The butter waiting to be added
 If you look carefully on the left you can see the large cooking station with a paddle sticking out where he was turning the sugar, corn syrup mixture as it caramelized.

I'm not much of a candy person but these were incredible.