Friday, December 11, 2015

Open Wide for Malta!

 Malta, the Official Home of the Senior Nomads Dentist.
I don't know anyone who actually enjoys going to the dentist. Even for that brief, squeaky-clean feeling you get after an hour of mild torture getting your teeth cleaned. But if you add the sun, the sea, ancient ruins and prices that will cause American dentists to drop their drills, getting your dental work done in Malta might just become tolerable.
Here's how we know. During a brief visit home a year ago, Michael was told he needed a dental implant. He started the extraction and bone-building process in Seattle with the idea that he would finish the work when we returned several months later. It was going to be a long and expensive ordeal.

Meanwhile, after to returning to Europe we met up with an American friend living in France who is a dear, but cantankerous fellow. He is also a bit of a tightwad. As we get older, failing body parts often come up during dinner conversation and ours turned to the high cost of dental work in America. He has his remaining pearly whites looked after in Hungary, where the prices are very reasonable. We'd just been there, so he recommended Malta since they were making headway in the Medical Tourism sector and we were headed there in the next couple of months. We discovered a long list of affordable medical and dental treatments available for a fraction of their cost in America. Joint replacement, cosmetic surgery, and every kind of dental work topped the list of offerings. Many came with luxury hotel packages to guarantee a very comfortable (and also affordable) recovery.

A medical tourism ad in Air Malta in-flight magazine. Visit their site:
Michael did some further research. Dental work done on this tiny island country in the middle of the Mediterranean was indeed affordable and upscale - no frightening backstreet practices like you'd find in a souk in Marrakesh where you can have a tooth pulled for $5.00. Michael found an Oral Surgeon trained in London who is a member of the Royal Academy of Surgeons. He had such an impressive string of letters behind his name we knew he had to be good - Dr. Joseph Xeureb, BChD (hons), (Melit), MFGDP (UK), MGDS RCS (Eng), FFGDP (UK) FICD. Who knows what it all meant, but we were in! And now, after three trips to Malta we fondly call him "Dr. X".

The dashing "Dr. X"
He runs two state-of-the-art-clinics under the name Savina Clinic Dental and Implantology Centres - one in Malta across the street from the airport arrivals hall (that gives you a hint about medical tourism in Malta), and the other on the picturesque island of Gozo, a lovely half- hour ferry boat ride away. Michael spent time in both - once in February, and again, six week later in April. Luckily we love this sunny island so there was no additional pain in having to go there twice. In the end Michael came away with a shiny new tooth, and several thousands of dollars remained in our checking account.

Round III. On our way to the clinic on Gozo to get our crowns fitted.
We were home in Seattle for a few weeks in October and dutifully went to our regular dentist. After a cleaning and updated x-rays for both of us we wrote a check for $500. We also left with individual "Dental Work Plans" for three crowns and a few fillings between us. Total estimate of $5,000 for work that would take several visits over several weeks. We fired off the estimate with the prices blocked to Dr. X and he came came back with an estimate of approximately $1,500 with an timeline of a ten days from start to finish. Dr. X is our new dentist for life no matter where we settle down.

Michael being well taken care of in the Malta clinic by the airport
Our Senior Nomads plans included spending most of November in Paris, partially to participate as speakers at the 2016 Airbnb Open, and then to spend time with our family in Paris that would include Thanksgiving. So we booked our third trip to Malta at the end of the month and created our own "Dental Retreat". Sort of like a "Yoga Retreat" except most of our time was spent in the reclining position. Here's a link to our airbnb:

Debbie sporting the after-effects of Novocaine and a "happy pill" ...  my smile returned when we got our bill!
It was intense! But we got our entire list of work done. It was almost pain-free, the dentists were gentle, friendly and supportive, and the staff was very helpful and accommodating. In fact, Dr. X wasn't sure we needed all of the work our Seattle dentist suggested, and presented some alternative solutions that saved even more money. Plus we enjoyed the benefits of spending more time in this unique part of the world surrounded by history and beauty and plenty of sunny weather. Perhaps my future career should include promoting this island of medical merriment.

One of many Maltese locations to recover from your day at the dentist.
While we were there, Queen Elizabeth and the leaders of all the Commonwealth nations (Malta being one of them) arrived for a major conference. Or to get their teeth worked on. Who knows?

Perhaps her Royal Majesty allowed time for a quick touch up to her smile.
Thanks for following along,

Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Normandy Express

NOTE: This blog is going back to last August as we were nearing the finish of Senior Nomads Round II. Many things have happened since then - some I have written about, but I didn't want this important part of our journey to go undocumented!

After our family gathering in Brittany last August, Michael and I had an additional week to spend with our 35 year old daughter Kelly. We had nostalgic visions of a pleasant family road trip along the coast of France to visit the World War II sites.  Memory has a way of blurring the bad bits, and if we all admit it, there were really very few pleasant family road trips.  Oh, there might have been moments where everyone was playing "Slug Bug" or telling fart jokes, or sleeping (not the driver of course), but road trips with our young children were taken well ahead of minivans with movies or the current device-for-every-child trend. Let's just say we went back in time 25 years and Michael snapped more than once "Listen you two" (that would be Kelly and I) "If I have to pull over you won't like the consequences!"

The team! Kelly Chief Navigator,  me Snack Mom, and Dad the Driver.
Our plans included a drive along the coast to the medieval city of Dinan with a three night stay in a converted barn in the nearby village of Pleudihen sur Rance. That would be base camp for day trips to St. Malo and and St. Michele before making our way to Caen for two nights. From there we would explore the World War II memorials and D-Day beaches.

Finding our way on the small back roads proved challenging - but rewarding.
With Kelly and I both glued to our iPhones using separate GPS map programs  set to navigate the French countryside we hit the road.  Of course we had conflicting ideas on the perfect route, and that led to some "my way is better than your way" moments - but our trusty driver reached back to early parenting skills and got the job done despite our squabbling. For all future travel after day one we designated Kelly as the official navigator. My job was to provide snacks, enjoy the scenery and do my best to stay out of any negotiations around how to find a small farmhouse in the dark in the dense Normandy countryside. Ommmm. Here's a link to our farmhouse airbnb:

My mistake was not stocking up on snacks and basics for our first night before leaving Quiberon Sunday morning. I knew better - I guess I just got flustered around three families heading in four directions and did they have snacks? A rookie mistake for  this Senior Nomad. In France, especially outside of big cities, large grocery stores are only open until 1:00 if at all, and restaurants and other shops are definitely closed. We had a hard time finding lunch on the road, but finally diverted into a very small village and thankfully found a bar serving sandwiches. And an an amazing 16th century cathederal. 
Our airbnb farmhouse was warm and comfortable.
Our rural retreat was cozy and it came with a friendly goat  pegged to a tether just outside our door. Our host kindly provided a bottle of local cider and breakfast fixings, and we dined on crepes for dinner at the only restaurant that was open in the tiny village. The place was packed of course, so that made for great atmosphere, and luckily the food was outstanding. All in all, a good day.

The lovely Kelly Anne taking a break from her navigating assignments.
Early the next morning I walked a mile into the village and bought proper travel snacks for the day's journey. We were headed to Dinan, but because our host suggested a side trip we discovered the picture-perfect village of Saint-Suliac. We would have missed this harbor-side village otherwise, and it was very special. It is rated as a Beau Village of France (a top honor for the most beautiful villages in the country) and the designation was well deserved.

It was a beautiful day in the popular village of Saint-Suliac.
After a full compliment of pastries (over and above car snacks) we were on to Dinan where we explored the castle and the winding narrow streets of the old town. The waddle and daub houses leaned precariously over the lanes and you could truly picture life here three hundred years ago. Luckily you didn't have to smell life 300 years ago since waste of every kind was tossed to the street with a shout of something like "incoming".  Instead you can buy expensive souvenirs and in our case, have ice cream for lunch.

Dinan showed off  beautiful buildings and ancient stone walls around every corner.
We taught Kelly our rules around Gelato. It can be breakfast, lunch or dinner!
The next day we headed to St. Malo. If you've read the popular book All the Light we Cannot See
you'll know a majority of the book takes place there. With every twist and turn within the city I could experience that amazing narrative. After a "back to reality" pizza lunch we headed to St. Michele - the iconic monastery that sits off shore and is it's own majestic city on a rock.

Leaving the shuttle for the civilized walk to the top of the monastery on St. Michele.
A peek at the sea from the ramparts around the monastery.
We witnessed pilgrims wading knee deep in the slurping sand to reach the island from shore (we chose the brand new bridge). Inside the gates we pushed through the gauntlet of tourist traps and souvenir shops. Once we broke free and wound up the many, many stairs to the monastery at the top we were rewarded with an amazing vista across miles of sand and sea. Unfortunately we had arrived too late to tour the monastery itself, but we'd had such a rewarding day with a minimum of car wars that we treated ourselves to another lovely crepe dinner.

 A Rye flour crepe with a perfect farm fresh egg framed in the in the middle.
In anticipation of our visit to Omaha Beach, we re-watched the movie Saving Private Ryan. It had been many years since we'd seen it, and Kelly had never seen it. It was difficult to sits through the horrific opening scenes of the D-Day landings, but it set us up for the next two days.

Watching Saving Private Ryan was difficult - but a good set up for our D-Day excursions.
We arrived in Caen and found our Airbnb. It was nice, but nothing special, and Caen itself isn't really a destination city other than being home to the acclaimed World War II Memorial Museum. Our plan was to be sightseeing most of the time anyway, so we were set. We were fortunate to have great weather as well.

A 25 foot statue called "Unconditional Surrender" based on the famous kiss in Time Square on V-Day stands outside the World War II Memorial Museum in Caen.
Our first day was spent at the museum. This is not a place to see artifacts - it is dedicated to the history of the most violent and intensive conflict of the 20th Century and particularly World War II. The museum was officially opened on 6 June 1988 (the 44th anniversary of D day) by the French President Francois Mitterrand. The original building deals primarily with World War II, looking at the causes and course of the conflict. Well said Wikipedia. This was a perfect start to our journey.

Michael surrounded by some of the headstones overlooking Omaha Beach.
Standing on the actual soil and sand of the D-Day beaches and learning first hand of the events of those weeks during WWII is almost indescribable. I am so glad our travels brought us, and our daughter, to this hallowed ground.
The most fascinating story we heard detailed the allied ingenuity that built a man-made harbor in a matter of weeks on the shore at Arromanches out of derelict tankers and huge concrete slabs. This was one of the war's most strategic accomplishments in that men and materials could flow continuously onto French soil. Here's a link to a great article in Scientific American that explains it in detail:  http://tinyurl/qetzmft

Kelly and Michael outside the museum at Arromanches.
We were humbled by the sea of 9,387 white crosses punctuated with Stars of David at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer overlooking Omaha Beach. We had seen a lot that day, but Michael and I were compelled to bookmark our experience with a visit to the German Cemetery at La Cambre, about ten miles inland from the American burial grounds. It was a sharp contrast, but no less powerful. More than 21,000 soldiers are buried here - and while over 1 million visitors pay tribute to our soldiers - a small fraction of that visit this somber site. It was no less powerful and we left with heavy hearts for all the young men who's final resting place we visited that day.
The German Cemetery and Memorial was a good reminder that war is in fact, Hell.
It was time to head back to Paris - could we survive the car trip? We could, but our car could not.
For two days the check engine light had been glowing. On this last day it added the message, loosely translated, "get to a garage or risk implosion".

In the two and half years we have been on the move as Senior Nomads, we rarely move around behind the wheel. Our itineraries are built around staying in the center of each city and relying on public transportation to get us where we need to go. This road trip would be the only the third time we'd rented a car.  We rest our case.

We definitely didn't like the looks of this message!
We found the nearest Avis rental agency in Caen and they said we could probably make it to Paris. "Probably?" No thank you. So we switched to a new car - but not before the agency said we'd either need to find a gas station and fill our tank or pay double to have them fill it before we turned it in.  Wait. You want us to put gas in a car we are returning early because it is a potential death trap? Ah, the French.
Kelly saying goodbye to new friends in Paris.
We made it to Paris and Kelly did a great job of navigating the city streets and getting us to the rental return site. Not easy since it was down a narrow street with a sharp right down into the depths of a parking garage. There was not a soul in sight, just a few spaces marked Avis. We left the car and once above ground found the tiny office. We were happy and relieved to hand over the keys and get back on the trusty Parisian Metro!

We put Kelly on a plane back to Seattle the next day. It suddenly seemed very quiet without a constant stream of advice from our daughter as well as way too loud bouts of laughter; some tender moments; some scratchy moments and some very, very good times. Bless you Kelly.

Thanks for following along.

Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads

Saturday, November 14, 2015

We are Safe in Paris

A black ribbon on the door of our nearest boulangerie.

Thank you to our readers who have been concerned about us. We are safe and so is our daughter and her family. This is such a sad day in Paris.

The Airbnb Open experience was so uplifting and our presentations went well - we even got a standing ovation from the big stage, so today's post was meant to be so different.

As the evening was wrapping up the 5,000 attendees were encouraged to go out and experience the real Paris. Explore a new neighborhood - meet up with new friends at a bar or over dinner. Who knew two hours later mayhem would be unleashed.

Please pray for the citizens of Paris and around the world who are suffering from violence and terror.

Thank you.

Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

60 Daze of Airbnb Open Prep!

Two months ago we were with our oldest daughter Kelly surrounded by a sea of white crosses punctuated with Stars of David at the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. Later that same day we stood amongst row after row of dark granite headstones memorializing the German soldiers who also lost their lives in France during WWII. We were nearing the end of almost a year of Senior Nomad travel and touring the memorial sites and museums in Normandy before returning to Seattle for a few weeks. I'll write more about our visit in the coming weeks.

Our new mentor and friend Chip Conely
For now I need to catch you up on a whirlwind of activity that has, amazingly brought us back to France! About six months ago we started a conversation with Chip Conely, Head of Global Hospitality & Strategy at Airbnb about the possibility of us speaking about our experiences at an event in Paris in November. The event is the Airbnb Open and it starts tomorrow when thousands of hosts from 110 countries will descend on Parc de le Villette for a big group hug. This morning we got up early in our 82nd Airbnb in Montmartre in the shadow of the famous  Sacre-Coeur Basilica to put the finishing touches on our presentations.

The big stage - our Keynote slides and our giant selves will be on the pink screen!
Not only will we step out on a stage blazing with lights, giant screens, teleprompters and cameras from all angles in front of 5,000 hosts, we will also be giving a half hour break-out sessions each day in front of 250 attendees about how great hosts made a difference in our journey.

My life for the last 6 weeks!

The system is the solution.

We've been scratching out scripts and trying to find the best way to co-present for about two months now. It was much easier spending 24 hours together for 850 days of travel than spending any single day trying to blend our two very different approaches and personalities into a cohesive presentation. Some days we were as synchronized as gold medal figure skaters, other times we were completely unraveled and wondered if we had been on the same journey. Often times we just had to walk away from it. We are nearly there, but barely married!

Michael remains calm in the face of public appearances, while I vacillate between confidence and terror on a minute to minute basis. Today we are going to practice on stage and will get a first look at what tomorrow and the next day will look like - and in the end, we both know it will be fine. And fun. We are surrounded by dozens of great people from Airbnb that truly love us and want us to succeed. Besides we are the only speakers talking about the guest experience so as they say, "We own the category". 

I would like this to be my future office at Airbnb headquarters in SF.

Presenting to the Portland Airbnb office staff.
We had a chance to present a variation on our break-out session at the Airbnb offices in Portland and in San Francisco while we were back in the States. We had great response at both places, mostly from audiences who, on average, were the same age as our adult children so it wasn't hard to getting standing ovations. We also presented our story to Seattle DowntownRotary - one of the largest in the world. Again we were surrounded by a room full of friendly faces. Michael has been a member of the club for 25 years and I had many friends in the audience. But we definitely saw some challenges in our hand-offs to each other and some fumbling with the slide flow. Arrgh. Can we do this?Yes we can!

We have been in Paris since November 4th and have had some very special time with our grandchildren. The balcony of our charming Airbnb looks directly down the street at Coco and Marcel's school, and we have picked them up most everyday for two hours of fun. Meanwhile, baby Jacques gets quality alone time with mom and dad after his day at creche then we all gather for a hectic dinner.

After school rendezvous and kid hand off in Paris
Yesterday we went shopping for a confidence building outfit for me to wear on stage. I was instructed to stay away from solid black or white, small prints or patterns, and anything reflective. Did you know that just about every garment in Paris is either, black, white, black and white or patterned? We finally found just the right look - another checked box on my list.

It's always fun to spend time at our home-away-from home with Carla and Tom.
Before I close I want to thank Carla and Tom Robinson for once again hosting us in the guest house while we were in Seattle for a few weeks. And also thanks to Billy Meyer a long time friend and speaking coach who was an enormous help in getting us prepared for this unexpected part of our journey as Senior Nomads.

Ready as we'll ever be! Wish us luck.
The only thing left to do before we head into the bright lights is decide who controls the PowerPoint clicker!

Thanks for following along!

Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Launching the Junior Nomads!

The Junior Nomads leaving Portland, Oregon - off to see the world!
Three years ago, Michael and I sat at our dining room table in Seattle and began scribbling notes on a sheet of paper that very soon became several sheets of paper, around the subject of what retirement might look like for us. We have a ten year age difference that has enriched and influenced our marriage over the past 37 years and now it was time, once again, to recalibrate and see what our next phase looked like. At the time Michael was 67 and I was and 57. One of us old enough to legitimately retire, the other eager to tag along! We'd had several life-changing experiences together - Michael even more so, including a successful stint as a professional race car driver before I met him. What might that next adventure be?

Not ready for rocking chairs quite yet!
We have four grown children and five young grandchildren and keeping involved in their lives is an adventure of it's own. Our oldest son Alistair and his family are a three hour drive down the road from Seattle to Portland, however, three of our grandchildren live in Paris. During our musings on retirement, our daughter Mary (mother of the Parisian children) suggested we might want to "travel full time... maybe, I don't know, in Europe?" We couldn't imagine we could afford to do that but she also asked if we had ever heard of Airbnb. At that time, we had not.

Airbnb became the ticket to living affordability in cities all over Europe and beyond.
Whether Mary had an ulterior motive to get us closer to France or not, we certainly thank her for the suggestion, because what seemed an impossible dream financially began to take shape. Once we looked into Airbnb  Michael began one of his favorite pass times, "Crunching the Numbers". The model would be to live in other peoples homes in Europe exclusively using Airbnb unless we were staying with friends. It turned out that if we sold most everything we owned, rented our house, put the remainder in a small storage unit and reduced our monthly expenses to the bare minimum, the travel dream was attainable and project Senior Nomads was launched. Since the day we padlocked the storage we have visited 45 countries, 125 cities and lived in 80 different Airbnbs. This past August we finished two years of almost continuous travel through Europe, Morocco, Israel, the Balkans, and most recently Russia.

We are still having fun, still learning, and still in love. I guess we'll keep going!
We left St. Petersburg on August 19th and headed to France to spend ten action packed days with most of our family. The gathering included our French family, our oldest daughter Kelly, who joined us from Seattle, Alistair, his wife Jenny and their two kids.We rented a large, rambling house in Quiberon, the village on the Brittany coast where Gregoire's parents live. Sadly our son Christopher and his wife Jamie couldn't make the trip, but at least all 5 cousins ranging in age from 15 months to ten years old could be together for the first time!

The big house we filled top to bottom in Quiberon. It was perfect - although not an Airbnb.

Heading out for a bike ride in the rain.

The daily bakery run
Siblings at the Saturday market.
Grandpa had a great time reading to his many grandchildren.
Sisters on the move with Baby Jacques.
Cousins movie night!
Happy in the kitchen preparing a huge pot of local mussels
Everyone digging in at one of dozens of meals together. The best part!
We had great expectations of long, sun filled days at the beach, but for most of our stay we had steady rain. That didn't keep us from having a great time cooking, (over-eating), playing games, building blanket forts, watching movies, riding bikes in the wind and rain, reading, and when the sun did come out, rushing to the beach for a quick swim.

A quick trip to the beach on one of the rare sunny afternoons.
Who knew how many places you can find sand on a baby!
Here's the twist! About six months ago when we were in Prague, Alistair and Jenny sent a text asking for some advice and could we set up a call. Of course it's always nice when your children seek guidance, but these two are very accomplished on most every front, so we couldn't imagine what the situation might be. With a nine hour time difference, we'd just have to wait until the next day to find out what was up.

Hello world! Here come the Junior Nomads.
It turned out that our travels where so inspiring to them that they were planning to quit their successful jobs (at age 42), take Spencer (8) and Lucy (10) out of school and travel the world for a year. Pause. Double pause. And then we burst out in cheers and tears. How bold and amazing is that?
At that point they hadn't shared their vision with their kids so we had some fun strategizing around just how to do that. Of course hitting the road with two school age children was something we couldn't imagine - but were in that same place three years ago, and now we know anything is possible if you imagine it. 

It doesn't get much better than this!
Spencer and Lucy enjoying their "classroom" in Italy.
Both adults would be leaving successful careers, Jenny as a Senior Global Director of Nike + Member Services and Alistair as partner at The Great Society, a fast growing ad-agency, but when they gave their notice, both were asked to think of this as a leave-of-absence and they would have jobs waiting for them when they returned. They rented their house, sold a lot of stuff, made twenty trips to Goodwill and boned up on home-schooling with the world as your classroom! As they say, imitation is the greatest form of flattery...and we couldn't be happier with these copycats.

The Campbells on the road in Montenegro. We hope our paths cross along the way.
Since we waved goodbye in Quiberon on August 30th, they have been to the Netherlands, Germany, Croatia, Montengro, and are currently on the Amalfi coast in Italy. They've already had several adventures and of course, as we know well, that's what this is all about  You can keep up with them #campbellamble.

Michael and I enjoying time with daughter Kelly in Dinan, France.
As for us, we left Brittany with our oldest daughter Kelly and headed up the coast to Normandy to take in the the D-Day sights. I'll write a quick re-cap of that next.

Thanks for following along!

Debbie and Michael Campbell
The Senior Nomads