Monday, June 27, 2016

All Caught Up!

We came to the UK to watch the Euro Cup football with English commentary (well sort of) and to be here while the British would be voting to "Remain" or "Leave" the European Union. The morning after the vote, we woke-up at 5am and went downstairs in our small London flat to find out the results. We sat stunned as the BBC, along with every other news station reported the results. We were mezmerized for the entire day as the story unfolded. Like millions of others in the UK, we had gone to bed the night before thinking that “Remain” would prevail so it was a shock to learn that “Leave” won the day.

We woke up to headlines like this one!
I suppose I am getting ahead of myself since our last posting had us leaving Croatia at the end of May packed like sardines on a Ryanair flight headed to Manchester in the north of England. That's where you land if you have friends to visit friend in Northern Wales. And now I am writing from London - So you might be wondering how we happened these past few weeks. Well, here’s the back story.

Voting was simple and the turnout was high. Check a box!
I follow politics and current events as if I were the News Director at CNN International so I knew months ago that the UK would hold an “Up or Down” vote on their membership in the European Union on June 23. Since London is one of our favorite cities, having lived here for 5 years when the kids were young, I suggested to Debbie that we plan our travels so we would be in there for the vote. She enthusiastically agreed. So, back in April we searched for somewhat affordable Airbnb's in Londay and booked a wonderful, very small cottage in a culturally-mixed (mostly Afro-Caribbean) part of south east London called Peckham-Rye. Here's the link:

Me smiling because we found this affordable cottage in the city.
There are 30 little houses lining the walk of this little known neighborhood called Choumert Square.
But before sharing our thoughts about the outcome of the vote, let me catch you up on where we’ve been since the final installment of our time in Croatia. We arrived safely in Manchester three weeks ago and were met by wonderful new friends whom we met for the first time last year on a funky boat cruise in Montenegro. Graham and Wendy invited us to stay at their house in Wrexham, North Wales if ever we came that way. Debbie has always wanted to visit Wales since it is part of her family ancestry so we took them up on the offer.

Our Welsh friends Wendy and Graham.
Graham and I and enjoying the start of the Euro Cup. Debs has Wales in the family pool.
Over the next four days we enjoyed a pub lunch, toured an estate that was a mini version of Highclere Castle (where Downtown Abbey is filmed), had a lovely BBQ, and visited a narrow 300 year old aqueduct that sits ten stories above ground and is popular with barge enthusiasts. Most surprising, was Debbie’s decision to have Graham, who is an engineer by day, trim her hair in the backyard on a sunny afternoon. At least he was precise.

A trim off the back in the back garden.
Before you knew it, it was time to get on another, crammed-to-the-rafters Ryanair flight from nearby Liverpool to Dublin.

Leaving for Dublin from the Liverpool Airport. Not on the Yellow Submarine.
In Dublin, the price of Airbnbs was shockingly high so we decided to share a room in a house rather than rent an entire house like we usually do. We had done this in Andorra two months ago with hosts about our ages and it turned-out to be a wonderful experience where we made two new friends, Monique and Henri. This time, our hosts were super young - so for them it would be more like having your parents over for the weekend. Their place was on the top floor of a downtown Dublin apartment block with a 360 degree view of the city and a huge deck. Take a look: Completely unknown to us when we booked it, our hosts Marta (Spanish), and Roberto (Brazilian) work for Airbnb. We didn’t learn that until after we booked their Airbnb. Here’s another back story!

I think we mentioned in earlier blogs that we have enjoyed visiting Airbnb offices in Portland, the HQ  in San Francisco, and recently in Paris. Each time we’ve been able to speak to the staff and share our exciting journey of living full-time in Airbnbs. They love this, of course! As it turns out, the European headquarters for Airbnb is in Dublin and we had been invited to their offices for a lunch-time gathering to speak to interested staff. I thought it might be a treat for our hosts to join us, so after getting permission from our Dublin contact, I invited Marta and Roberto to join us. I did this via email a week before we arrived and that is when they said they already knew we were coming to the Airbnb office. Because… Surprise, surprise. They both work for Airbnb! They would see us there, and by the way, they were very honored to be hosting the Senior Nomads.

Our first of two casual meetings with the staff at the Dublin Airbnb offices.

The lunch at Airbnb’s beautiful new offices in a restored docklands warehouse just around the corner from Google and Facebook, was just as much fun and equally rewarding as it was when we spoke at the other Airbnb offices.

A few days later, it was time to board the train for Galway, a historic fishing town on Ireland's west coast three hours away by train. It was an an easy, scenic journey with plenty of countryside flashing by and a big table between us to work on. Our Airbnb was wonderful. It was part of a restored grain mill turned “holiday lets” and sat perched over the River Corrib that ran with the tide to the sea just beyond our windows. Debbie enjoyed feeding the baby swans out one window and the baby seagulls out the other.  Link:

The lovely swan family that lived just below our window.
I should have told you that when we were in Wales the week before, we did a phone interview with a reporter for the Irish Independent newspaper, the paper with the largest circulation in Ireland. The full-page story ran a few days after we arrived in Galway. Here's the story. LINK

The story as it appeared in the Irish Independent. Link below.
The next day we heard from a popular radio show on RTE Radio 1 and from a researcher for a nationally broadcast evening talk show on TV 3. Both wanted us to appear on their shows the following week, so three days later we were back on the train headed to Dublin for the day and a quick stay overnight at another Airbnb. First stop was the radio station for a 15 minute chat on The Ray D'Arcy Show and then straight to the TV station for our live interview on The Seven O'Clock Show. Below is a link to segment on the Seven O’Clock Show and the radio interview - both were really fun and we are getting more and more comfortable telling our story on the air.
Debbie and I with the other guests and the hosts of the TV3 show.

Our host Kathleen who was sitting in for Ray D'Arcy. She was a big Seattle fan.
Ray D'Arcy Radio segment

The next morning we had coffee at Airbnb with Aisling Hassell the Head of International Customer Experience - she was happy to hear ours has been a great one! Then back on the train heading west again to pick up where we left off in Galway.

Debbie's desk in our Galway Airbnb - a lovely place to write for a few hours every day.
The night before, we got a surprise phone call from good friends from Seattle, Frank and Susan Finneran who were in Ireland on vacation and happened to hear our radio interview while driving in their rental car. On top of that coincidence, they were staying in Galway just a few blocks from us. I am happy to say we arranged to have dinner with them which was a real treat as we were able to catch-up on Seattle news and mutual friends along with their travels in Ireland. 

A visiting boys choir from Minnesota offered some free entertainment in the church nearby.
Our Galway host Irene was among the very best. Turns out Nancy, her octogenarian mother-in-law, owns the Granary building where we were staying (as well as several others). She popped up to say hello and invite us out for a glass of wine. Once we passed muster, she arranged a luncheon at her home on Wednesday at 2:00 in the afternoon to meet a few of her friends. We accepted not knowing exactly what kind of gathering it would be. When the day came, we were driven to Nancy’s house where we were introduced to a group of senior ladies with wine glasses in hand - all of whom were well-traveled and had seen us on TV and were ready with questions galore on our travels.

Our host's mother-in-law Nancy. She was great fun.
The ladies at the luncheon - a great group with lots of questions.
Our Airbnb host Irene helping serve the delicious salmon luncheon.
After some pre-lunch refreshments in the front room we sat down to lunch around 3 pm for a delicious baked salmon meal with all the trimmings. This was followed by desert, followed by a second desert with coffee/tea. I think it was at least 4:30 when “lunch” ended. We were honored to be invited and the occasion was one of those most special Senior Nomad moments that we will treasure for years to come.

All this while, Debbie has been writing, editing, re-writing and writing some more on our book for Airbnb hosts titled Your Keys. Our Home. She is 80% done with the manuscript. I am her dutiful research assistant, project manager and shoulder masseuse when she is tired of being hunched over her laptop…each of us has our own shoulder issues, mine is "frozen", probably from hauling our bags and my daypack stuffed with laptops and electronics.

The book has been an incredible learning experience for both of us and a joy to work on. We hope to have the manuscript completed and off to our editors by the 4th of July. By then, we will be in Amsterdam and can turn our attention to all the other components of the project like photos, layout, and actual printing!

Great to be back in London - a stop at Buckingham Palace on the way to the Pride Parade.
We have another week here in London before we fly to Amsterdam on Saturday for three weeks in the Netherlands that includes ten days with Mary and the Grandchildren in The Hague in a great family oriented Airbnb near the beach.
Can't wait for a week with these three little ones.
As promised, back to Brexit. As you can imagine the media is continuing to cover the vote 24/7. Many citizens and civic leaders are in shock and sorely disappointed - especially the under 35 crowd. As things become more clear on the ramifications, some who voted to leave may now regret their decision because the "unknowns" vastly outnumber the "knowns" about what’s next. Most articles and broadcasts end with questions about the future of this great country and for now, the answers are in short supply. Scotland citizens voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU so it's possible they will make another attempt to break away from the UK so they can stay in the EU.

Brexit stage right! Mr. Cameron was quick to resign.
Perhaps more unnerving is the realization that the UK may not be able to exit on friendly terms even if that’s what the Leave pundits promised. The other 27 countries have a voice, a big voice and already the word from the Continent is that the leadership is anxious for a “quickie divorce" to show the world and other European nations who may want to try and follow the UK example, that this is not the first domino to fall. But rather that the EU will move forward with the goal of "ever closer" as many in the EU leadership envision.

Safe travels and thanks for following along,

The other half of the Senior Nomads

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Laid back on the Adriatic - Final Chapter

For our final fortnight in Croatia we wanted to visit one more major city. We were planning on going to the harbor town of Pula in Istria because we had read so much about it. As Chief Travel Planner, it was my job to figure out how to get us there before we dug too deep in selecting an Airbnb.

First we needed to take the one-hour catamaran ride from the island of Hvar back to Split where we could catch a bus to Pula. My research quickly revealed that a bus from Split to Pula was affordable but long. Tickets were 300 kuna ($45) but the journey was 11 hours. Debbie always says she loves a good bus trip but that seemed a little long even for her tastes.

That's when I remembered our host in Split had told me about a seaplane that made the same trip in 90 minutes. Now who wouldn't want to fly up the Croatian coastline along the Adriatic at 1,000 ft on a beautiful sunny day with hundreds of islands scattered below? It brought back memories of flights we've taken many times back home in Seattle aboard Kenmore Air over the beautiful San Juan Islands. At first the price seemed reasonable, well okay reasonable in a "we've been staying below budget in Croatia sort of way" but that's when I remembered each of our suitcases weight 23 kg and that's not even counting our day packs which probably come in around 10-12 kg each. 

It was hard to give up the seaplane options.
Not dissuaded by the above, I contacted the airline, European Coastal Airlines to see about weight restrictions. Turns out, with our extra baggage, the total cost came in at around $400. which was the same as buying four passenger tickets. So for the next couple of weeks, we went back and forth rationalizing the extra cost of flying vs the bus but never came to a decision. That's when someone in the tourist office suggested we go to Zadar instead. Zadar is just 100 miles north of Split, buses leave hourly and the 3 hour trip was only 85 kuna ($12) and in her opinion, an equally beautiful and diverse destination. Sold! 

Breakfast of Travel Planning Champions - Note the two chocolate cookies
We began to search on Airbnb for a place in Zadar and within a few minutes we found a wonderful listing in a city that we really enjoyed from arrival day to departure.

A peek at our Zadar home away from home. One of our favorites.
In the running for "Hosts of the Year" - Elza and Alan in Zadar.
It all started when our wonderful hosts Elza and her husband Alan volunteered to meet us at the bus station in Zadar and drive us to the house. The house, or complex as it turns out, is large and includes their home where they live with their two teenage sons plus three apartments for guests. This sort of multi-dwelling structure is common in Croatia as multi-generational families tend to live together. Son and new wife in one unit. Grandparents in another, etc. Our 2nd floor unit was perfect with a deck over-looking their beautiful garden, and big dining room table as well as table on the deck for for working on our book and whatever else we seem to constantly need to spread out to accomplish.

Will walk for miles for a soft serve combo cone.
During our stay we had several days of warm sunshine, and others a mix of sun and clouds often followed by evening rain, and even a few dramatic thunder and lightning storms. We walked everywhere including the mile and a half each way to the captivating Old Town where, again roman ruins vie for space with ancient castles and cathedrals nestled inside the fortress walls. It was about a 30 minute walk to Old Town but you could shave 10 minutes off the journey by taking a little red rowboat across from one side of the harbor to the other. The three minute crossing cost 10 kuna ($1.50) A father and son from the same family has been ferrying passengers back and forth for the last 300 years. We made a habit of buying a mixed (vanilla and chocolate) soft ice cream cone as a reward for not taking the bus.

With Elza on the little red boat that crosses the harbor.
Our driver. A father and son from same family has been running this short trip across the water for 300 years.
The population of Zadar is 170,000 but Elza seemed to know everyone in town. She took Debbie under her wing more than once as they made the rounds of shops and merchants for all manner of food, beverages and necessities and they were constantly stopped by friends and family - and there seemed to be a need for long conversation with every market vendor. She even cleaned the fish they bought together at the market. Debs loved every minute of her time with her. Meanwhile Alan loaned us the boys bicycles and climbed the ladder deep into the cherry trees in the back yard and delivered a small bucket full of bright red fruit to our door. We also visited his offices where he manages a fleet of cargo ships that traverse the world, and visited Elza at her work at one of the city's largest marina where she looks after the landscaping.

Debbie with Elza at the marina where she had just filled this planter.
A few of the the hundred fresh cherries we had on the counter.
We also lucked out because during our stay, Zadar was hosting their 10th Annual International Choir Competition. We were introduced to choir competitions two years ago in Riga, Latvia where we stumbled upon the 2014 World Choir Games - that was Senior Nomads highlight. We were excited that we would be able to enjoy free performances by choirs of all flavors during our stay. The actual competitions were held indoors at the National Theatre. But after each choir finished performing, they walked outdoors to the famous "Greeting to the Sun" installation  Link on the promenade and did a twenty minute set "just for fun". The choirs, and often their directors, were much more relaxed outside the competition environment and delighted us along with the crowds.

We knew what we'd being doing for the next few days!
One of many wonderful performances we enjoyed throughout the week.
Indoors. Outdoors. Choirs were everywhere!
Zadar is famous for something called the Sea Organ (or "Morske orgulje" in Croatian). What is a sea organ, you might ask? Well it is a public art installation build into the sea wall that produces eerie music, powered by the sea waves themselves. We read about it prior to coming to Zadar so when we walked by it several times and couldn't hear anything we were a little confused. Later that day, Elza told us that the Sea Organ was closed for repairs during the month of May. After learning that, we felt better knowing that our hearing wasn't completely gone. We did an Internet search and found this clip to share with you Sea Organ link

Greetings to the Sun is about to light up and go Disco. All run by solar panels.
Zadar definitely has "destination"sunsets.
Normally, we try to travel between cities around mid-day or early afternoon. That way, the schedule for "Travel Day" as we call it, has us doing a pack 'n' clean in the morning followed by public transport to a bus station, train station or airport hopefully arriving in our next city in the late afternoon or early evening. Well that wasn't possible as we left Zadar. First, flights in and out of the city are few and far between. We were headed to the UK to stay with friends in Wales. And what friends they are! The only flight out was at 10:00 pm. Graham and Wendy drove an hour to pick us up at the Manchester airport in England just after midnight - and then drove us all back home. More on our wonderful time in Wales coming up next.

So, in this case, most of Travel Day was spend doing some final errands and having an excellent dinner before James, who we made friends with while we were in Zadar, came to pick us up and take us to the airport. So far, so good on the Friends + Cars = Airport transportation equation.

We made it to the tiny airport without any problems. Got in the queue with a huge gaggle of British holiday makers and still made it through security in plenty of time. As it turns out, there is a large area outside where you can sit and have a drink (or smoke like crazy) and watch planes land and take off. You are close enough to inhale the jet fuel fumes and hear the engines roar. Soon we walked out onto the tarmac ourselves and up the stairs for our Ryanair flight to Manchester. After 5 weeks in Croatia, it was hard to say goodbye.

Dubrovnik is a city we enjoyed, but there are so many less discovered places to find on your own.
With two visits to Croatia under our belts, we have to say it is one of our favorite destinations. As I said before, if you haven't been, think about going and enjoying this proud nation who just a few years ago was in a horrific war with their Serbian neighbors and are now coming to a place of peace and prosperity that could use all of our support.

Safe Travels, And thanks for following along,

The other half of the Senior Nomads

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Laid Back on the Adriatic Part 2

The beautiful harbor on the island of Hvar
To my eye, Croatia looks like a open crab claw that is about ready to snap closed on its neighbor, Bosnia. Fortunately after 20 years the bordering countries that made up the former Yugoslavia, including Serbia are no longer in conflict. Now they offer some of the most unspoiled and affordable travel destinations in Europe.

Croatia and it's borders. At the very top left it connects with Italy. If you come this region you might start in Ljubljana, Slovenia and then work your way down the Croatian coast to Zadar, Split and Hvar.
We have visited this entire region, and Croatia is the country that captured our hearts, and that is why we returned for this extended second stay. That and a chance to catch some sun and step out of the Schengen Zone (as explained in the previous blog).

One of the many cruising options for exploring the region are these Turkish boats called Gulets
After a two week stay in Split, we boarded the catamaran for the one-hour ride to the island of Hvar.Croatia is 2nd behind Greece with the number of islands in the Mediterranean and I suppose we could have been a little more adventuresome and tried a different island this time, but we enjoyed Hvar two years ago and were glad we went back. Hvar is the 4th largest of the 700+ Croatian islands and a very popular tourist destination. Happily we were ahead of the high season crowds and enjoyed leisurely walks and uncrowded restaurants. Debbie was able to get a good start on the Airbnb book we are writing.

Debbie Sherpa style! Travel days require a lot of patience and arm strength.
We also played several games of Scrabble - with Debs getting score of 107 in one play with the word FLOATING which was a Bingo (worth 50 additional points) over two triple word squares - an epic score!

Our first two words during one of our games. And it was just that - a very warm day.
We tried to book the same Airbnb we stayed in two years ago, but it wasn’t available. As it turns out, that worked in our favor because we found another wonderful Airbnb with a great view of the sea in a little enclave on a harbor that had a few small shops for basics and a couple of cafes. Our lovely hosts took care of our every need including lending us their printer and buying us a toaster. Here's the link: We were also closer to the center of the main port city and the walk to and from the old town from our house was a beautiful half mile stroll with the sea on one side and the ancient fortification walls on the other.

Sunset from the deck of our Airbnb.
The highlight of our week in Hvar was spent on a boat, only this time I was the skipper. We rented a small 14’ runabout with a 5hp outboard and a brightly colored Bimini for shade which allowed us to spend a day exploring the nearby Paklinski islands just across from our little harbor. We reserved the boat the day before and were surprised at how informal the process was. It went like this: What’s your first name? Phone number? That will be 100 kuna please ($15) as a deposit. See you tomorrow!

Captain Campbell back at the helm.
The next day we turned-up with a lovely picnic lunch that Debbie made and paid the balance of the rental 250 kuna ($37). The young man at the counter told us that his co-worker Ivo would meet us in a few minutes to show us the ropes. Meanwhile we were pointed to a nearby dock where our little love boat was tied-up. No paperwork. No ID. No deposit. No Liability Release form. Just, “Have a great time.” I have to say, it was a breath of fresh air when compared to American liability phobia.

Ivo took us out in to the harbor and checked us out on general operation of the outboard and told us if we wanted to go ashore, we were not to run the boat up onto the beach. Instead, we should anchor out and swim in… or if we wanted, we could tie-up to one of the docks dotted around the islands. I was surprised that even small runabouts are expected to tie-up Med-Style which in this case meant bow in, stern out.

A portion of the pamphlet were giving to use for navigation and the basics of "med-style anchoring".
Note, in boating, there are no “maps” only “charts” but in this case, it would be a stretch to describe this hand-out as a chart - but it certainly was enough to help us get around. With our 10 minute training behind us, off we went. We explored a few islands before anchoring to enjoy our picnic in a quiet little harbor. Had we anchored just one bay away, we would have had a view of the naturalist (nude) beach on Jerolim island. It was voted best nude beach in Europe by CNN two years ago.

Paklinski islands from the air. Sailing charters are very popular in this part of the world.
Croatian harbors fill up with mega-yachts and luxury cruise boats all summer long.
Later in the afternoon we motored (slowly) between the many beautiful islands - it felt like being back in the San Juans Islands in our home state of Washington. We found a large marina that was almost empty and thought we'd head in for a pit stop. As we approached looking for a place to tie-up (Med-Style of course) the Harbor Master came running down the dock whistle in mouth indicating that we needed to be on the other side of the marina where dinghy’s like ours were welcome. We didn't know why, since the marina was almost empty - I guess we were riff-raff compared to the sleek yachts he was hoping for any time now. We successfully deployed the stern anchor and tied-up like veteran sailors. On ashore, we went for a hike to explore the other beaches on side of the island. We weighed anchor and took a slow turn around the main Hvar harbor and admiring humongous mega yachts that towered above us. We got boat back by 5 pm without a scratch or incident and called it a great day.

The Franciscan abbey near our Airbnb where we enjoyed an evening concert.
We also were lucky to find a mixed choir concert at the Franciscan Cloister just around the corner from our house.  You wouldn't have guessed how great it would be by the poster alone (see below). I would guess over the three years we’ve been traveling we’ve probably been to over 100 concerts in one form or another, and we usually find out about them on church bulletin boards. This little group of members from the community stood out for a number of reasons. First, the location was a small chapel that was over 350 years old and had great acoustics. Only about 50 people could fit in the seats so it was intimate as well. The choir of two-dozen adults of all ages was energetic in their “rust red choir robes” and the program ran the gamut from Bach to the Beatles as well as contemporary Croatian composers.

A magical Senior Nomad moment enjoying a local choral group performance in an ancient abbey.
We find a lot of fun and affordable entertainment by scouring posters around town. 
And, like all good entertainers, they left their appreciative audience wanting more. After their final number - ABBA’s Mamma Mia, the encore was a robust version of “This Little Light of Mine”. They really did shine.

One of the great walks along the coast that started just outside our door.
One afternoon we were walking in town during a holiday celebrating St. Prosper (he being the patron saint of Hvar). St. Prosper's Day has been celebrated here since 1671 - no reason to stop now. We happily came across several booths offering homemade baked goods, cheeses, and tastes of regional dishes for a donation to the church. Lunch was served!

The main square in Hvar where there is a lively Saturday market and great people watching.
We ended our time in Hvar with romantic dinner out at a restaurant a few steps off the main square  called Macondo. The chef was our host in Hvar two years ago so it was fun to catch-up with him and of course, he went out of his way to make everything perfect.

Macando - the well known restaurant where our former Airbnb host is head chef.
 If you haven't visited Croatia, we highly recommend it. Most everyone speaks some English, and you'll find yourself in an unspoiled beautiful country. If you have been here, but haven't  stayed on Hvar, add it to your itinerary next time you come. Once you've been here, there will always be a next time.

The dazzling harbor lights - our evening strolls with Gelato were our favorites.
From Hvar, we took the 7:30 AM catamaran back to Split, then caught a bus for the scenic three-hour journey north to Zadar for our a final two weeks in Croatia. Stay tuned for the third and final installment of my Laid Back in the Adriatic blogs.

Thanks again, REI for these amazing suitcases that, as Willie Nelson would croon keep us "On the Road Again!"
Thanks for following along,

The other half of the Senior Nomads